56 years ago, on 4 September 1954, the icebreakers USCGC Northwind and USS Burton Island completed the first transit of the Northwest passage through McClure Strait.
There has been a lot more activity in the North lately (more here and here), with the promise that if the melting continues, passages from Northern Europe to Asia may be cut by up to half (link includes a nice comparisons of the routes). The Russians expect to make some money on fees for passage and the use of their icebreakers.
There is even talk that it may substantially hurt business at the Suez Canal and allow ships to avoid pirates off Somalia. Looks like that is still a few years off since the season is very limited and only ice strengthened vessels can use the route now.
Still other people are planning ahead. China is building their second polar icebreaker and positioning itself to exploit the Arctic. Maybe a little healthy competition is the wake up call we need.