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Moira Dunbar (1918-1999)

Moira Dunbar-Approved use by HERvolution

“A trailblazer on many levels (Vincent and Simpson-Lewis).”

Moira Dunbar was born in 1918, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Although Moira earned her BA in geography in 1939 from Oxford, she initially worked as an actress and travelled around Europe with a theatre troupe throughout WWII before beginning her career in geography. In 1947, she travelled to Canada on a visitor’s visa, and while there, Moira heard that the Canadian government was looking for trained geographers. Moira successfully applied for a position and began working with the Joint Intelligence Bureau of Canada, editing a book on arctic sea ice.

After working for several years, Moira applied for a position on an arctic icebreaker, since she was hoping to work in a more hands-on capacity. Although her request was initially denied because women were not traditionally allowed on icebreakers, Moira was persistent, and in 1955, the Deputy Minister finally approved her request.

When asked about her initial experience as the only women on icebreakers, Moira explained, “ I think they regarded me as some sort of cross between a delicate flower and a dangerous disease... I think they expected me to go around seducing all the men, or something (The Herald, 1999).” This treatment was only temporary, and soon Moira was regarded as a member of the team.

Throughout her career studying arctic ice, Moira conducted the majority of her research from icebreakers. Moira also realized the benefit of studying ice from above, and she began to lobby to be permitted to fly with the RCAF. Once approved, Moira became one of the first women to fly over the North Pole.

Moira published many papers throughout her career, and she even learned Russian in order to better understand Russian research on Arctic ice. In 1971 Moira was awarded the Massey Medal from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, becoming the first, and only, woman to have achieved this so far. Moira’s citation for the Massey Medal stated, “No one intending to do anything in northern transportation is likely to get very far without making use of her research (Vincent and Simpson-Lewis).”

When Moira retired in 1978, she had received the Order of Canada and was a governor of the Arctic Institute of North America, and the director of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, among many other things. Moira was on the cutting edge of research for the majority of her career; she was a pioneer in glaciology, and she knocked down every barrier she encountered.

moira

Photo Courtesy of Science.ca

moira 2

Moira Dunbar and Keith Greenaway in 1956. Photo courtesy o

f the Royal Canadian Geographical Society

 Moira Dunbar and Keith Greenaway in 1956. Photo courtesy of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society

Moira Dunbar and Keith Greenaway in 1956. Photo courtesy o

f the Royal Canadian Geographical Society

Moira Dunbar and Keith Greenaway in 1956. Photo courtesy o

f the Royal Canadian Geographical Society

Bibliography

Hulbe, Christina L., Weili Wang, and Simon Ommanney. (2010). Women in Glaciology, a Historical Perspective. Journal of Glaciology 56 (200), 944–64. doi:10.3189/002214311796406202.

Massey Medal. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2018, from, http://www.rcgs.org/awards/massey_medal/previous_winners.asp.

Moira Isobel Dunbar . (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2018, from, http://www.science.ca/scientists/scientistprofile.php?pID=346.

Moira Dunbar. (1999, December 10). Retrieved January 16, 2018, from, http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/12202896.display/.

Rowley, Diana. (2008, June 10). Isobel Moira Dunbar. Retrieved January 16, 2018, from, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/isobel-moira-dunbar/.

Vincent, Mary, and Wendy Simpson-Lewis. (n.d.). Northern Exposure. Retrieved January 16, 2018, from, http://www.rcgs.org/about/history/northern_exposure.asp.

 

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