Tourists get northern exposure Couple operates an outpost for North Pole trips

August 31, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

RESOLUTE — RESOLUTE, Northwest Territories -- Bezal Jesudason keeps his table set for 15, here on remote Cornwallis Island high in the Canadian Arctic archipelago. He never knows who may be dropping in for dinner.

There were the New Agers from Winnipeg, on their way by sled to the magnetic North Pole, where they hoped to beget a super-baby.

There was the Japanese film crew making a movie called "Antarctica." Because they were at the wrong end of the globe, they had to use stuffed penguins as props.

There was the moon-walking astronaut Neil Armstrong, who spent the afternoon building an igloo outside Mr. Jesudason's door, intent on spending the night in it.

And there was the physics professor from Hong Kong who wanted to do tai chi exercises at the magnetic North Pole, to see whether his arms generated an electrical current as they passed through the Earth's magnetic field.

All of these, and several hundred Arctic aficionados more or less like them, have traveled to this forbidding outpost near the top of the world because they grasp one of the reigning incongruities of northern life: If you want help traveling in the high Arctic, you can't do better than to buy it from a 51-year-old Indian from sweltering Madras.

Mr. Jesudason, a Tamil, and his 44-year-old Canadian wife, Terry, are the proprietors of High Arctic International Explorer Services, a 10-room guest house and outfitting concern in Resolute. Their mom-and-pop business has cornered the market on North Pole expeditions.

And not only that: In a part of Canada where virtually everything is subsidized by the federal government, from airlifted apples to loan-guaranteed zinc mines, the Jesudasons have carved out their niche with no government help.

Bezal Jesudason has himself been to the geographic North Pole half a dozen times, touching down on the ice cap in a skiplane. He has helped 16 surface expeditions conquer the Pole on their own, renting them gear and native guides and tracking their progress by radio.

Each year, about 300 travelers visit Resolute, twice the village's population.

Each year, Mr. Jesudason helps still other Arctic travelers get to the magnetic North Pole, which is a great deal more accessible and can be reached in a few days by snowmobile. He says he does not miss India's hot weather at all: "Actually, I cannot stand the heat anymore."

In any given year, Mr. Jesudason and his wife accommodate about 300 travelers -- about double the population of Resolute. To better serve his clientele, he has learned to speak fluent Japanese, German, Inuktitut and a little Danish and Dutch -- as well as English and the five languages of the Indian subcontinent that he already knew when he arrived in Canada.

Mr. Jesudason's presence in Resolute might, indeed, be looked upon as a bit of divine providence: He has attracted wealth to an otherwise barren island, created jobs for 10 local guides and set an inspiring example for other northerners who might otherwise slip into the welfare system's crushing embrace.

Back in 1969, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs first offered the reluctant Mr. Jesudason a job maintaining heavy equipment in the Baffin Island town of Frobisher Bay, now called Iqaluit. Off he flew to the north, so ignorant of Arctic conditions that he did not even know the terrain was treeless.

Soon after his arrival, the department embarked on a decentralization program, sending technicians like Mr. Jesudason to tiny hamlets scattered across the Arctic islands.

In one Arctic hamlet, the beautiful, mountain-rimmed Grise Fiord, Mr. Jesudason met his wife-to-be, Teresa Di Pasquale.

The two were married in the Grise Fiord hamlet hall. Soon after, Mr. Jesudason was posted to Resolute, a village of about 150 named after a British naval vessel that wintered nearby in 1850.

But Mr. Jesudason did not forget his friends back in Grise Fiord. He would travel with the Resolute Inuit to visit them, about 250 miles by dog sled, hunting and fishing along the way.

He shot home movies as he went.

"People would say: 'Oh, I'd like to do that. Can you set something up?'" says Terry Jesudason. The repeat queries got the Jesudasons thinking.

They found a couple of junked, government-provided houses and set up the first tourist guest house in the Canadian Northwest Territories.

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