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1933: Balfour Currie and the 2nd International Polar Year

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The “first ideas of an auroral oval” emerged from the observations of Balfour Currie, on leave from the University of Saskatchewan and stationed at Chesterfield Inlet in the Canadian arctic, during the Second International Polar Year, 1932-1933.

Currie, with colleagues Frank Davies, Stuart McVeigh, and John Rae, took several thousand images of aurora between August 1932 and September 1933; they also measured “electric fields and other meteorological variables in the lower atmosphere....Measurements of the earth’s magnetic field were also taken with great care at hourly intervals.”

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Currie analysed the data upon his return to the University; but many of his ideas relating to interpretation of the images “were ahead of their time.”   Indeed, one colleague believed that for Currie, “the official record of discovery” was unimportant.  Those who knew him could “recognize the originality of his insights by reading his work.....The real legacy of Chesterfield Inlet is not a string of discoveries, but rather the number of upper atmospheric and space scientists, who trained at the University of Saskatchewan and now are working throughout Canada and other parts of the world.  It was only because of Currie’s success at Chesterfield Inlet, and in gleaning the results afterward, that the University of Saskatchewan was able to embark on upper atmospheric physics at such an opportune time, in the early fifties.  Currie’s contribution enabled Canada to participate actively in space science....That is the real legacy of Chesterfield Inlet and Balfour Currie.”1

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Related Collections

Department of Physics fonds, RG 2043.
J.E. Kennedy fonds, MG 102.
W.O. Kupsch fonds, MG 146.
See also: Balfour W. Currie: The Second International Polar Year


1933a: Excerpt from Currie diary. W.O. Kupsch fonds, MG 146.
1933b: Frank Davies cutting Balfour Currie’s hair, Chesterfield Inlet. W.O. Kupsch fonds, MG 146.
1933c: McVeigh, Davies and Rea hauling in the kite. W.O. Kupsch fonds, MG 146.
1933d: McVeigh retrieving kite. W.O. Kupsch fonds, MG 146.


1.  All quotations from essays in Musk-Ox, vol. 35.

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