Running with the wolves: St. John's photographer shoots doc in Canada's Arctic

It's as far north as you can go in Canada: Ellesmere Island. It's home to a tiny town, a military and weather station, and packs of Arctic white wolves — but that's about it.

It's also where photographer Alain Lusignan spent two months living and working among the animals.

Lusignan's work will be displayed in the upcoming Nature of Things documentary White Wolves: Ghosts of the Arctic, airing on CBC Television March 9.

In Lusignan's base, just about a thousand kilometres south of the North Pole, the photographer lived with two co-workers and used whatever he brought with him — dry food, camera gear, gas and toilet paper.

"Once we were there, you know, that was it," Lusignan said.

"We would get dropped off at the beginning of June and then picked up at the beginning of August."

Getting to know the wolves

Lusignan, a photographer based in St. John's, said it's a three-day journey to get to Ellesmere Island.

"You're pretty much as remote as you can be," he said.

'They kind of completely ignore you, because they have more important things to do.' - Alain Lusignan

His job in the far North was to document the lives of one pack of wolves — their pups and their daily lives.

"When you spend that long with wolves, day in and day out, you really do connect with them," he said.

The crew developed names for the pack they followed: Snow White was one of the main females, Alpha was the breeding male, and Curious George, Bald Tail and Rasta were the names of the litter.

"All the wolves really had different, slightly different personalities," he said.

In the two months the crew followed the wolves, they got plenty of insight into the animals' lives: two female tending the same den, and a raid by a rival pack that saw a number of pups killed.

"Our director actually was on the verge of tears, because it was really sad," Lusignan said.

"And while this raid was happening, the female was off on a distant ridge, and she was just howling away. And you knew that she knew her pups were done for."

While life in isolation was hard, and there were challenges finding water and maintaining equipment in the extreme weather, Lusignan said some of the work went smoothly.

Busy lives of a wolf pack

That far north, Lusignan said the animals didn't fear humans the same way they might closer to civilization.

"They're not hunted and so you can get quite close to them," he said. "It's as if you're not there, they kind of completely ignore you, because they have more important things to do."

The two-month stay allowed the crew more time to find those spectacular shots — even if it did come with downsides.

"You kind of really want a normal shower after a while, and you want variety," said Lusignan.

"Fresh vegetables, we really get to crave something like a salad."

White Wolves: Ghosts of the Arctic airs March 9 at 8:30 NT on CBC Television.

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