The Eskimo of Bora-Bora: Paul-Émile Victor
I am employed by IPEV and as the Research MD at Concordia, will conduct research for the European Space Agency’s Human Spaceflight Programme.
So, who or what is IPEV?
‘IPEV’ is an abbreviation. Its stands for the ‘Institut Polaire Francais Paul Emile Victor’.
This is the French Polar Institute.
Too much about Antarctica is written and said about Scott and Shackleton, by interpretation of interpretation. Sure, they are among the greatest stories passed on between generations.
I have written this blog is in respect of another of my heroes. Here is a forgotten, fallen, unsung hero. Here lies a short biography for Paul-Émile Victor, pioneer of French Polar Exploration and Conservation.
Who was Paul-Émile Victor?
Paul-Émile Victor was born in 1907.
“PEV” as his close friends knew him, was an adventurer, ethnologist and explorer, who spent 50 years of his life in the Arctic and Antarctic. His trail-blazing enthusiasm and passion carved and cemented French polar exploration.
What did he do?
For someone who used to say that ‘he hated the cold and wind, snow and ice’, he spent the majority of his life , exploring, living and breathing polar science and conservation, sharing his friend, Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s passion for life.
- His first experience in the natural world came about as an open-sea deck hand.
- In 1934, he was ‘dropped off’ on the Greenland coast with three other young researchers, where they lived and worked until being picked up one year later. During this time, they completed a traverse of Greenland.
- Mount Victor, in the Belgica Mountains of Antarctica, is named after him.
- In 1940, he joined World War II with the US Air Force, serving in Nome, Alaska.
- The Antarctic base of Dumont d'Urville, which I have visited, would not have been set up in 1956, if not for PEV.
In 1976, PEV retired into his own teenage dream of French Polynesia, spending his last years in Bora Bora.
Like our own Sir David Attenborough, he knew his way around our planet. He spoke openly, honestly and from his heart of experience, about the blatant exploitation of the natural world, the need for its protection and overall, the ‘dehumanisation of life on earth’.
For his 80th birthday, he revisited the Antarctic and the Arctic for the last time.
Later in 1995, he passed away, in Bora Bora (French Polynesia).
A museum exists, Musée Paul-Emile Victor, Centre polaire Paul-emile Victor, located in the French town of Prémanon. It documents and celebrates the success of his unique, captivating and inspiring life. I hope to visit it one day. You should too!
As Albert Einstein said, “there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.”
At just 28 years old myself, having been lucky enough to have lived and worked in the Arctic and now the Antarctic, I have fallen in love again and reignited an old flame. This time with adventure, conservation, exploration and a deep appreciation for our planet’s final, frozen frontier. A natural miracle.
I think I understand PEV. He’s another reason why I am here. There is no denying, it’s a lonely life. To me, life is an island of some sorts. Bora Bora perhaps, for the lucky few.
In my mind, PEV was a pipe-blazing hero… Ernest Hemmingway’s Old Man of the Antarctic. I have attached some photos from his life.
For more information see: