Markus Dyck who died in a helicopter crash near Resolute Bay on Sunday. (Photo by The Canadian Press)

‘He loved Nunavut:’ Polar bear biologist who died in helicopter crash remembered

IQALUIT — A dedicated scientist who loved the North, Markus Dyck spoke his mind and strove to include Inuit in northern research.

That’s how friends and colleagues are remembering Dyck, a polar bear biologist with the Nunavut government, who died in a helicopter crash near Resolute Bay on Sunday. Two crew members also died.

Harvey Lemelin, a professor at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., and a close friend of Dyck, said he’s still processing the news of his death.

“I was in complete denial. I was hoping they were wrong,” he said in an interview.

Dyck, who was in his early 50s, was surveying polar bear populations in Lancaster Sound for the Nunavut government on the day of the crash.

He grew up in Germany and lived in Igloolik, a Nunavut community on a small island in the northwest Baffin region. He moved there in 2012 when he got his dream job as a polar bear biologist.

“He loved Nunavut. And he loved those communities. He was so dedicated to traditional knowledge and to respectful approaches to working with the communities,” Lemelin said.

As the Nunavut government’s polar bear biologist, Dyck spent years doing field work and collecting samples across the territory.

“He was so dedicated to those bears… I’m not sure I could ever capture how much he loved them,” Lemelin said.

Peter Van Coeverden de Groot, a professor who worked with Dyck, also highlighted Dyck’s dedication to including Inuit traditional knowledge and sustainable hunting in his northern research.

“He had a desire to be more inclusive, being non-invasive and getting the community involved,” said de Groot of Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

“I think Markus lost the definition between work and life. It was just life. His work was his life.”

Dyck had a sharp sense humour and, when surrounded by friends, never held back about how he really felt, de Groot said.

He had an “incredible knack” for being able to fit the f-word into any situation “as a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb. But he was perfectly well-mannered when he needed to be.”

Lemelin and de Groot agreed it was often hard to tell when Dyck was smiling because of his bushy beard.

“He looks like a curmudgeon, but he’s got a twinkle in his eye and a soft spot,” de Groot said. “He was the most lovable curmudgeon I know.”

“When he smiled when he saw you, you knew it was a genuine smile. There was nothing disingenuous about Markus,” Lemelin said.

University of Alberta professor Andrew Derocher, who met Dyck in the early 1990s while they were both working in Churchill, Man., also remembers Dyck’s outspoken nature.

“He made his opinions known and wasn’t shy about them. But he was willing to listen. He had a wry sense of humour and a slight squint in his eye,” Derocher said.

Dyck’s death leaves a hole in the polar bear research community. Derocher said Dyck was the go-to person for all polar bear researchers in Canada and internationally.

“He was the link that brought researchers in from around the world,” Derocher said. “It’s a huge setback for polar bear management in Canada.”

“Markus is irreplaceable at this time. Not because he was just the world’s most wonderful human being, but he had a set of connections and history that can’t be replaced,” de Groot said.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating the crash. The cause is still unknown.

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