The DEW Line and Canada’s Arctic Waste: Legacy and Futurity


  • Myra Hird



Dew Line, waste, remediation


The Northern Review 42 (2016): 23–45

During the Cold War, the United States and Canada embarked on an ambitious military construction project in the Arctic to protect North America from a northern Soviet attack. Comprised of sixty-three stations stretching across Alaska, Canada’s Arctic, Greenland, and Iceland, the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line constitutes both the largest military exercise and waste remediation project in Canadian Arctic history. Despite the massive cleanup operation undertaken, the DEW Line’s waste legacy endures as a prominent and deeply rooted feature of Canada’s Arctic history. Drawing upon a rich historical, anthropological, military, political science, and environmental studies literature, this article explores waste as a key issue in the shifting narratives concerned with the modernization of the Canadian Arctic. While the DEW Line has been extensively analyzed in terms of its effects on the modernization of the Arctic, this article seeks to link Canadian sovereignty, security, resource exploitation, environmental stewardship, and Inuit self-determination directly to waste issues. As industrial activity and military exercises stand to significantly increase in the Arctic, I want to draw attention to the lessons of the DEW Line; that ”develop now; remediate later” incurs steep human health, environmental, financial, and political costs.

Author Biography

Myra Hird

Professor, FRSC, and Queen’s National Scholar, School
of Environmental Studies, Queen's University; Director, genera Research Group (gRG); Director of Waste Flow






Northern Inequalities: Global Processes, Local Legacies