Canadian prime minister was first foreign state head to visit Norilsk
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Canadian prime minister was first foreign state head to visit Norilsk

November 11, 2021

On May 24 and 25, 1971, Canadian prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau visited Norilsk with his wife Margaret, an Indian rights activist.

#ARCTIC. #SIBERIA. THIS IS TAIMYR. In addition to them, the Canadian delegation included 35 more people: members of the Canadian parliament, deputy ministers of industry and trade and foreign affairs, secretariat employees, security officers, correspondents and photographers of leading Canadian publications.

For the first time, the city met the head of another state, especially a capitalist one.

The Canadian couple was very interested in the life of a big city in the Far North, in the permafrost zone. They visited the Norilsk maternity hospital, the registry office, schools, the new Arctica sports palace, the Valyok dispensary.

The Canadian prime minister was young, tall, gave everyone he met badges with a maple leaf – the emblem of Canada, he was not at all like a VIP in our understanding.

Personal translator of the USSR political leaders Victor Suhodrev interestingly described that visit in his book My Tongue is My Friend:

“At that time, we wrote a lot about Norilsk, it was a unique city, where all conditions for a normal life were created in the permafrost zone, and so on. We wrote much, but foreigners were not allowed to visit… But the Canadians insisted. They were offered Murmansk, Arhangelsk. They, in turn, said that those cities were not on the permafrost, so it was not so interesting there. In the end, our authorities agreed. They carried out the appropriate preparation, carefully worked out the route at the plant itself in order to cut off the “unnecessary” (means secret) workshops. And after Tashkent, after a twenty-five-degree heat, after five hours of flight we ended up in Norilsk, where the thermometer showed minus fifteen and a light snow was falling…

The Canadians were staring. They had nothing of the kind. In northern Canada, mining was carried out on a rotational basis, and such cities were not built there. Trudeau and his wife settled in a small mansion, which was completely rebuilt and renovated by their arrival. Furniture was fresh from the factory, there were reindeer and polar bears’ skins on the walls. They glossed over the city and the residents probably remembered the Canadian prime minister with a kind word for a long time.

The Canadians were interested in everything: how the Russians built multi-storey buildings on stilts, how they mined ore, visited a dispensary for workers, in the hall of which the most exotic living plants descended from the ceiling. The guests were shocked. They also admired the ice sports palace, where they saw boys, in full hockey attire, playing the game originated in Canada…”

The tales of Trudeau’s arrival entered the city’s folklore. For example, in one school, in preparation for the meeting of foreign guests, Trudeau’s portrait was hung in a row with the images of Lenin and Marx.

In previous issues of the History Spot photo project, we told why, after Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s visit to Taimyr, musk oxen had been brought from Canada, and why the arrival of the Finns in the 1970s had brought about a real revolution in the mentality of the Norilsk people.

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Text: Svetlana Samohina, Photo: Nornickel Polar Division archive

November 11, 2021

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