In the remote Arctic hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, on the shores of the Beaufort Sea in the Northwest Territories, rumblings of Chinese interest in funding a new research station, however unlikely, were warmly welcomed.
But even if it were built, it would be just one of the big changes coming to the small community.
"I'm open to hearing their proposal and bringing it to the community," Mayor Darrel Nasogaluak said in an interview. "I'd like to see what they'd like to see done here. We're always open to research being done here."
Last week, a Chinese scientist told The Globe and Mail in Beijing that China was interested in funding a new research outpost in Canada's High Arctic – and thought that Tuktoyaktuk, or Tuk as it is known, would make the perfect location.
The remote Inuvialuit community – more than 1,100 kilometres north of Yellowknife – is ideal for research since it is located in the resource-rich Mackenzie Delta region, and Chinese scientists are searching for potential permanent outposts where they can study the effects of climate change and do research on oil and gas extraction.
For Tuktoyaktuk, a community that does not have an all-year, all-weather road connecting it to municipalities farther south, the interest comes at a time of change.
A new $300-million all-weather highway to the area, essentially extending the Dempster Highway north from Inuvik, is scheduled to be finished by 2017, and would replace the ice road that connects the community during winter months. The development could spur economic development in the region and reduce the stingingly high cost of food in the North.
Tuktoyaktuk may also get a fibre optic cable soon after one is brought to Inuvik, where existing satellite stations – from Sweden and Germany – are perfectly placed to pull down information from satellites going over the North Pole. Broadband infrastructure is severely limited in Inuvik (the data are currently downloaded and physically mailed out), not to mention in Tuktoyaktuk, and these new initiatives could spur even more change.
"Anything that brings a science presence into the region would be most welcome," said Doug Matthews, who worked with the Northwest Territories government for 25 years and is now working in Tuktoy.aktuk to try to establish a deep-sea port there.
"I don't imagine there would be a whole lot of people employed from the community. But you could get some serious science done in the region, and that's useful for everybody."
For the Northwest Territories more generally, the Chinese interest is certainly welcome – as is almost any interest, since the territorial government is desperate to boost the region's population.
The development was seen as confirmation that the trade missions to China by territory-level government officials had paid off. The premier has been to China five times, said the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Investment, David Ramsay, who has visited China twice. Mr. Ramsay noted the territory is dealing with declining revenues and gets more money from Ottawa if it can boost its population.
"We're interested in investment from China," Mr. Ramsay said. "I wouldn't know what it would take to make that happen. I haven't seen a specific proposal. … [But] it's encouraging to see that level of interest. And it speaks to our interest in China. We also want to grow our population here. It would be a win-win for us."
It is unclear how Ottawa, which has made a big show of asserting Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, would treat a Chinese outpost in the Canadian Far North – and the proposal could be controversial, even if the federal government wants development in the North.
Mr. Matthews suggested that U.S. officials, particularly in Alaska, may have their own concerns, and other observers suggest that a Chinese facility would be likely only if it were built within an existing Canadian facility. Mr. Ramsay said it would certainly need federal approval, but noted it would depend on the Chinese scientists' interests.
"It will get back to the proposal," he said. "How it will all work, what the Chinese would bring to the table, what they would expect from us, from the Inuvialuit."