Off the northeastern coast of Labrador, in the northernmost reaches of the Newfoundland and Labrador province lies Landsat Island, an icy isle inhabited only by polar bears. How did such a place get named after a satellite?
In 1976, Landsat data were used as part of a Canadian coastal survey. The Landsat images revealed a number of uncharted features; the largest of these was a small island twenty kilometers off the northeast coast of Labrador. In honor of its “discoverer,” Landsat 1, the island was named Landsat Island, despite one surveyor's suggestion to name it Polar Island.
After Landsat Island was detected on the Landsat 1 image, the task of verifying its existence was given to Dr. Frank Hall of the Hydrographic Service—a task that turned out to be more challenging than first thought.
As told by Scott Reid during a Canadian Parliamentary debate, Dr. Hall “was strapped into a harness and lowered from a helicopter down to the island. This was quite a frozen island and it was completely covered with ice. As he was lowered out of the helicopter a polar bear took a swat at him. The bear was on the highest point on the island and it was hard for him to see because it was white. Hall yanked at the cable and got himself hauled up. He said he very nearly became the first person to end his life on Landsat Island.”
The island is a mere 25 meters by 45 meters, but it marks the easternmost “extremity of the Canadian landmass on this part of the coast,” according to Canadian cartographer Elizabeth A. Fleming, who was part of the original 1976 survey effort. Because of the island’s location, the area of Canada grew by 68 square kilometers.