Canadians are being invited to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday by joining the historic journey of a former Coast Guard icebreaker as it travels Canada’s entire coastline in 150 days.

There will be scientists, indigenous leaders, musicians, and innovators on board for the historic trip -- plus a few dozen lucky Canadians who can apply online to join a 10-day stretch of the journey.

The ship has been christened “Canada C3” – named for the three coasts that it will pass through during the 23,000-kilometre voyage. It embarks from Toronto on June 1 and stops in 50 communities before docking on Oct. 28 in Victoria, B.C.

Canadians who don’t get to sail can participate by attending community events, in classrooms, at museums or as “virtual expeditioners” taking part in online chats and downloading podcasts and videos.

The journey is organized by Students on Ice, a charity that has been taking groups of young people and notable Canadians on missions to the Arctic for nearly two decades. It’s partly funded by a federal Canada 150 grant.

Founder Geoff Green says Students on Ice participants end up building personal connections with coastal and Arctic communities, and he expects C3 to do the same on a much bigger scale.

The goal is to engage 20 million Canadians in a conversation about what it means to be a coastal and Arctic nation, with a special focus on the Canada 150 themes: diversity and inclusion, the environment, youth and reconciliation, Green says.

Critical time for Arctic knowledge

About 40 per cent of Canada’s land mass is in the Arctic but only 100,000 of Canada’s 35 million people live there, so few Canadians feel much connection to the north, according to Green. Building more connections to the Arctic couldn’t come at a more critical time, he says.

“As climate change and its impacts are happening, the Arctic is becoming more accessible,” Green said. “With that come some big questions that we need to answer and decisions that we need to make.”

The “big questions” relate to how to balance economic opportunities -- like new shipping routes, fisheries and a possible oil and gas exploration -- with environmental and other concerns.

A key to this will be building bridges between indigenous communities and non-indigenous communities, according to Green. He says C3 will advance the dialogue by having indigenous knowledge incorporated every step of the way.

Strengthening these relationships could especially important at a time when other countries are pushing aggressively into the Arctic. Russia, for example, is expanding oil and gas exploration and competing for territory claimed by Canada and Denmark.

According to Green, previous Students on Ice trips have highlighted inadequate housing, food, education and infrastructure faced by Inuit and other northern First Nations.

“The best way to showcase our sovereignty in the Arctic,” according to Green, “is to have healthy communities, with the needed infrastructure.”

Trudeau’s northern connection

Canada C3 hasn’t announced which “remarkable” Canadians will be on board, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau are, of course, invited.

It wouldn’t be their first trip to Canada’s rugged northern coasts. Green says the couple brought “good karma” when they volunteered as teachers with Students on Ice in 2005.

Green says Trudeau inspired the youth on board to be good environmental students. He also recalls Trudeau trying to inspire them to take the plunge into the Arctic Ocean by jumping off the bridge of the ship into frigid waters 15 metres below. “I don’t know if showing off is the right word,” he says.

Green also recalls Trudeau telling the youth on board how much it had meant to him to travel to the Arctic with his father, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Their trip together to the North Pole when Justin was only six was famously referenced in Justin’s 2000 eulogy for his father.

Trudeau strengthened his connection to the north in 2003, when he retraced his father’s canoe trip down in the Northwest Territories’ Nahanni River, which Pierre Trudeau protected with a national park reserve in 1976.

Trudeau made another visit to the Arctic in February, as part of his cross-country town hall tour.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Iqaluit

During one stop in Yellowknife, he faced criticism over his decision last fall join with U.S. President Barack Obama on a five-year moratorium on drilling for oil and gas in Arctic waters.

Trudeau responded by saying that he is currently consulting territorial and indigenous leaders on a new Arctic policy that considers health care and education in addition to military defence.

“You cannot protect, defend and respect Canada’s Arctic if you are not protecting, defending and respecting the people who live here and the people who have lived here for millennia,” he said.