Abstract This paper considers Frobisher Bay and Inuvik, two Canadian Arctic towns, as examples of the high-modernist planning that swept the globe during the middle decades of the twentieth century, but also Cold War projects reflecting a sudden interest in the Arctic as a region of military significance. Building on the framework provided by James Scott in Seeing like a State (1998), the paper details the connections between modernization theory and Cold War militarism before turning to the strikingly parallel case studies. In each instance, federal officials proposed ambitious urban models designed to simultaneously overcome the hostility of a northern environment and catapult native northerners into conditions of modern living. While the limits and failings of such schemes varied by location, both sites were also laboratories for social scientists employed by the federal government to document and analyze the modernization of the Arctic. The work of these scholars represents a particularly rich and complex record of governmental interventions, tied variously to Cold War imperatives, in northern lives and landscapes at a time of great faith in the transformative power of modern engineering.