Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Political Science General

Polar Imperative

A History of Arctic Sovereignty in North America

by (author) Shelagh Grant

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
May 2010
General, Polar Regions, Environmental Policy
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    May 2010
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2011
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2011
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it

Out of print

This edition is not currently available in bookstores. Check your local library or search for used copies at Abebooks.


Winner of the 2011 Lionel Gelber Prize, the J.W. Dafoe Book Prize, the CAA Lela Common Award for Canadian History, and shortlisted for the 2010 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.


Based on Shelagh Grant's groundbreaking archival research and drawing on her reputation as a leading historian in the field, Polar Imperative is a compelling overview of the historical claims of sovereignty over this continent's polar regions. This engaging, timely history examines:


the unfolding implications of major climate changes


the impact of resource exploitation on the indigenous peoples


the current high-stakes game for control over the adjacent waters of Alaska, Arctic Canada and Greenland


the events, issues and strategies that have influenced claims to authority over the lands and waters of the North American Arctic, from the arrival of the first inhabitants around 3,000 bce to the present


sovereignty from a comparative point of view within North America and parallel situations in the European and Asian Arctic


Told from a Canadian perspective, this book will become a standard reference on Arctic history and will redefine North Americans' understanding of the sovereign rights and responsibilities of Canada's northernmost region.

About the author

Shelagh D. Grant is the author of the award-winning Arctic Justice: On Trial for Murder; Pond Inlet 1923; Sovereignty or Security? Government Policy in the Canadian North 1936-50; and more recently, Mittimatalik-Pond Inlet: A History, translated into Inuktitut; as well as numerous scholarly articles on related topics. She is an adjunct professor in the Canadian Studies Program and research associate of the Frost Centre for Canadian Studies at Trent University and lives in Peterborough, Ontario.

Shelagh Grant's profile page


  • Winner, Lionel Gelber Prize
  • Short-listed, Sir John A Macdonald Prize
  • Winner, CAA Lela Common Awards for Canadian History
  • Winner, J. W. Dafoe Book Prize
  • Short-listed, Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing

Editorial Reviews

"Shelagh Grant has confirmed her position as our leading historian of the North."

J.L. Granatstein

"The book as a whole is expertly documented and eminently readable."

Arctic Book Review

"Grant's comprehensive survey comes across as a fresh look at a region that has long consumed our identity as Canadians."

Canada's History

"Grant's Polar Imperative is the first really detailed study of 200 years of North American sovereignty in the Arctic, written from a Canadian vantage point but with excellent documentation of American, Danish, British and Norwegian histories."

Globe & Mail

"This is a book that you could dip into every time Arctic sovereignty pops up. There is a good index, excellent maps and well-chosen illustrations."

Peterborough Examiner

"Grant knows this stuff better than anyone and has always told her complex tales well."

Toronto Star

"Polar Imperative may well be the best book ever written on the history of the Arctic in North America. In the age of climate change and competition for Arctic resources, this original and provocative book will spark renewed debate about the future of the North. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand what is going on in the Arctic today."

Ken Coates, author of "Arctic Front"

"This book is a 'must read' for every Canadian who is interested in the history of the Arctic: Grant recounts the fascinating story of how Canada -- a modest and sparsely populated country -- successfully asserted sovereignty over the entire Arctic Archipelago in the face of considerable odds."

Policy Options

"Rippled with adventure, this essential reading is an authoritative history for anyone interested in understanding why the world's attention is shifting to the Arctic."

Lionel Gelber Prize Jury

"Despite seeking to inform a public audience, Grant's scholarship provides a richly footnoted argument accompanied by a comprehensive bibliography. Copiously and imaginatively illustrated. Highly recommended."

Choice Magazine

Other titles by Shelagh Grant