George (Gudlangur) Palsen

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When Icelandic-born Gudlangur Palsen arrived at Richibucto at the age of 19, seeking adventure and fame, he got his first job as a deckhand on a three-masted schooner which carried wood and coal between Newcastle, New York and Philadelphia.

Today, after more than 30 years with the legal surveys division of the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys, Mr. Palsen has had enough adventure to satisfy any man and has gain considerable fame for his work in the Northwest Territories and other parts of his chosen country.

His face tanned and muscles hardened from rigorous outdoor life, he is past retirement age but so valuable to his department, it is reluctant to let him go; he is now training younger men to carry on the work he has done so well. For the past three winters he has headed surveyors’ expeditions to the north and is just back from surveying the British Columbia-Northwest Territories boundary. He has surveyed a considerable portion of the Northwest Territories; has worked as a harvester in the Canadian West, a railroad bridge builder, a park warden and timberman in both Riding Mountain and Banff National parks.

He designed and built the first ski tow at Banff and served as a civil engineer and surveyor with the RCAF in charge of 53 stations during the Second World War. He has shot the treacherous Canyon Rapids on Churchill River, gone without food four days, near Reindeer Lake, NWT, and crossed a ten-mile stretch of Great Bear Lake by canoe in a bad storm with only one paddle.

Yet, he maintains, none of the hazards he has encountered in the Northwest Territories can compare with those he meets when he tries to shop in a city department store.

“You never say a thing can’t be done in the wilderness,” he said. “The will to win overcomes all obstacles. I like the frontier life,” he went on, “but unless you understand transportation in the North, you’re licked.”

He prefers dog teams to any other mode of transportation, too. “They won’t break down and they’re economical,” he explained. “We don’t feed them raw meat but a special well-balanced dog food which is easier to carry. Two and a half pounds per dog per day costs 30 cents, so with four dogs to a team and from seven to ten teams, that’s cheap transportation. We travel from 18 to 24 miles a day, and when they come out, they are sleek and healthy.”

From a 1954 newspaper article by Bettie L. Cole.

George (Gudlangur) Palsen obtained his commission as an Alberta Land Surveyor on January 10, 1944. He passed away November 12, 1980 after a brief illness.