Scenes from Nunavut
Seven Communities of Nunavut
Three of these communities are on Baffin Island to the east - Arctic Bay, Cape Dorset and Pangnirtung; two are in the Barren Grounds area - Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet; one is off the tip of the mainland - Igloolik; and the other is on Ellesmere Island - Grise Fiord. The following description is in alphabetical order.
The settlement of Arctic Bay (incorporated in 1976) is located on the north shore of Adams Sound off Admiralty Inlet on Baffin Island. The village is on a low gravel beach enclosed on three sides by low hills, giving it the name of a pocket. This area was previously used by nomadic hunters for thousands of years; it became a permanent settlement in the 1920s when a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post was established. Between 1942 and 1952 a weather station was in operation which provided employment for the Inuit. Employment was also later found to the east of the village at the former mine site, Nanisivik, which was reached by the only road (21 km) in the territory.
In 1989, the population of Arctic Bay was 95% Inuit with Inuktitut and English spoken. The residents hunted mammals for food, clothing and other usage. The area has caribou, muskox, narwhal, seal and walrus while the waters provide Arctic char. Some wintering beluga can be found nearby in polynyas. Hunting for game is also done on Devon Island which does not have a settlement. The residents make soapstone carvings, handicrafts and miscellaneous items, and there is a caribou and fish processing industry. The settlement has a school (K-10) which also offers adult education. There is a sod house Museum in the community hall and the residents participate in a July 1st Annual Midnight Sun Marathon with Nanisivik.
The settlement of Baker Lake (incorporated in 1977), approximately at the geographic centre of Canada, is located at the northwest end of Baker Lake near the Thelon River in the Barren Grounds area. The village is on basically flat land and is the only inland Inuit community in Nunavut.
The first contact that the Baker Lake Inuit of the remote interior had with non-Inuit was in the late 19th century when the Tyrrell brothers of the Geological Survey of Canada (1893-94) traversed the area. Earlier, some Baker Lake Inuit had worked for American whalers in the Hudson Bay area.
In 1916, a Hudson’s Bay Company post was opened nearby for the fox fur trade while the villagers hunted caribou for food and clothing, muskox for clothing and fished for Arctic char, Arctic trout and Arctic grayling. The caribou source failed at times between the 1920s and the late 1950s, and these dreadful occurrences caused starvation. A co-operative was later opened at Baker Lake proper. By 1960 the permanent settlement of the community was established.
In 1987, the population of Baker Lake was 89% Inuit and 11% non-Aboriginals with Inuktitut and English spoken. The residents were still hunting and fishing; they were also engaged in the arts and crafts industry (formed in 1970) creating sculpture, carvings, prints and tapestries. The settlement has a community hall, library and a school (K-10), and there is an Anglican Church and a Roman Catholic Church. A popular sport is the dog team races, and tourism is a new industry with outfitters conducting tours on both the land and the river. A special project for the Baker Lake residents was the Dogrib Caribou Skin Lodge Project of 1998-2000. This project was undertaken when a “104-year old Dog rib caribou skin lodge” was returned to the Northwest Territories from the United States. “Dog rib caribou skin lodges... were a primary form of habitation for centuries..., but when canvas tents became a common trade item in the 1920s the caribou skin lodges quickly disappeared”.
Cape Dorset (incorporated in 1982) is located on Dorset Island, southwest Baffin Island, off the Foxe Peninsula; the village is in two valleys surrounded by small mountains. This location was the site of the first discovery of remains of the Dorset culture people.
A Hudson’s Bay Company post was opened in 1913 and a co-operative followed in 1959. In 1987, the population of Cape Dorset was 93% Inuit, 1% First Nations (Dene) and 1% non-Aboriginals with Inuktitut and English spoken. The residents hunted caribou, seal, polar bear and walrus for food, clothing and miscellaneous items, and they harvested the beluga for dog food. They fished for Arctic char and made carvings, prints and lithographs - the village is known for its famous Dorset print-making shop. The settlement has a community hall, library and a school (K-6), and there is an Anglican Church. Some of the houses follow the Dorset style with four or five dwellings in a row.
The settlement of Grise Fiord (unincorporated), Canada’s most northerly Inuit community, is located on Jones Sound on the southern coast of Ellesmere Island. The village is at the fjord’s entrance on the beach and land-raised benches against a rock-faced mountain. It was a re-located area when circa 1953 families were moved from northern Quebec and Pond Inlet (Baffin Island). The area around the settlement is rich in game and it is from this source that the inhabitants derive their livelihood. The mammals found at Grise Fiord include fox, muskox, polar bear, seal, walrus and whale - beluga provides dog food. “Herds of muskoxen provide the most dependable year-round source for hunting peoples in the High Arctic” (McGhee, p. 51) as a light snowfall together with the wind-swept land allows the game to feed in the winter. The residents also fish for Arctic char and for game on Devon Island which does not have a settlement.
A co-operative was opened in the late 1960s, and Inuit sewn products support a crafts industry (formed in 1959). Today, a tourist industry offers guided tours of the spectacular scenery. In 1987, the population was 92% Inuit and 8% non-Aboriginals with Inuktitut and English spoken. The settlement has a community hall and a school (K-9).
The settlement of Igloolik (incorporated in 1976) is located on an island of the same name on the west coast of Foxe Basin between Fury and Hecla Strait and the mainland. The mainly flat area around the settlement has muskeg ground and ponds while the village itself is on sand, gravel and flora meadow. This area became inhabited beginning around 2000 BC with the ancient peoples, and the first Europeans to make contact with the Inuit there were William Parry and his crews (1822-23).
Igloolik is a traditional Inuit community. It is known “for the sea mammals concentrated in the adjacent strait, where currents maintain areas of thin ice and open water throughout the year. Seal, walrus, beluga and narwhal are common in this area during the summer, and both seal and walrus winter in Fury and Hecla strait” (McGhee, p. 98). Under certain conditions, the latter become “relatively easy prey” for ice-edge hunters. The walrus hunt provides skins, ivory and blubber in addition to meat. In the summer as well, caribou and seal are hunted in Central Baffin Island, while Arctic char and Arctic trout can be found in the waters around Igloolik Island. Other mammals in the area are fox and polar bear both of which are hunted for their hides.
A Roman Catholic mission was established in 1931 and a Hudson’s Bay Company post was opened in 1939. Before that time, the Inuit had to travel by boat to other distant locations in order to trade. In 1959, the modern community of Igloolik began, and in 1963 a co-operative was opened. In addition to the above products from the mammals, the residents engage in stone and whalebone carvings as well as making seal skin products for their arts and crafts industry. Igloolik’s traditionally-minded people are actively politically in the community, making it “known for its independent-mindedness and cohesiveness” (NWT Data Book, p. 168). In 1987, the population of Igloolik was 93% Inuit, 2% Metis and 5% non-Aboriginals with Inuktitut and English spoken. The settlement has a community hall and a library, and its school (K-10) was opened in 1960.
Many families in Igloolik still try to gather on the land whenever possible. An example of such a weekend traditional family hunt is given here. The party set out for Central Baffin Island and during the crossing a snow goose was caught with a spear; this fresh goose was later boiled for part of a meal. Arctic char was caught and cleaned for drying while caribou meat was transported from a distant hunt; fresh bone marrow was also part of a meal. The caribou skin was cut to make a parka and it was noted that the neck area is “the strongest”. Ringed-seal can be found on the ice around Baffin Island and one was caught. Lastly, it was observed that the family prayed before meals.
Pangnirtung (incorporated in 1972) is located on the southeastern shore of Pangnirtung Fiord, Cumberland Sound on Baffin Island. The village is on a gravel and rock beach with steep hills to the south. In addition to caribou, other hunting and harvesting species were beluga, bowhead, fox, narwhal, polar bear, seal and walrus.
The settlement of Pangnirtung was first inhabited by the Dorset culture people of thousand of years ago. These people, called Tunnitt by the Inuit, built sod houses at the base of the area’s mountain. The history of Pangnirtung is closely linked to that of Cumberland Sound itself which saw whaling activity by Americans and Europeans during the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. These first visitors came in the summer for whale oil and bone. Later, others spent the winter at Cumberland Sound in order to hunt in the following spring with the help of the Inuit. Over these years, some of the Inuit learned to speak the whalers’ language. Other visitors came to Cumberland Sound as well; they were scientists participating in the First International Polar Year (1882-83), and among them was a research team from Germany (1882) which studied the weather. Again the help of the Inuit was needed and many later spoke German.
During the early whaling years the Inuit traded the whale oil for food items as well as cloth, guns and tobacco. Later, after the decline of the whaling industry, the whalers only took the hides and skins of seals and walrus with the blubber intact and tusks of narwhal and walrus. This was also after the setting up of the Hudson’s Bay Company post in 1921. The HBC itself gave cash for fox furs and in the beginning free items (probably guns, food and tools) to persuade the Inuit to trade only with them which they did.
Between the years 1921 and 1961, Pangnirtung was a small settlement - a trade and service station. An Anglican Church was built in 1926/1927 and that faith is still strong today. In 1962, an Administrator took over from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and in 1968, a co-operative for soapstone, whalebone and ivory carvings was introduced following the dog disease epidemic in 1961. The period of the above also saw the health epidemic (tuberculosis) after 1930, which resulted in residents being transported to hospitals in southern Canada. In the 1960s, there was an increase in growth, but at the same time the seal skin industry went into decline. This loss of seal skin trade resulted in social problems as many people still depended on it.
In 1987, the population of Pangnirtung was 94% Inuit and 6% non-Aboriginals with Inuktitut and English spoken. The settlement had a community hall, library and two schools (K-3 and 4-12); it also had four stores and a fish processing plant. With regard to the Inuit culture, Inuktitut is taught in the early grades while grades 11 and 12 students receive the benefit of teaching from Elders of the traditional way of life. Indeed, hunting is still practised whenever possible, and most families still spend time on the land camping during the summer while others have moved back to the land. The community of Pangnirtung is known for its world-famous woven tapestries (see below); it also makes soapstone, whalebone and ivory carvings. The village is the major entrance to the Auyuittuq National Park (1976) which is a tourist attraction for land and water tours.
The Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio of the Uqqurmiut Centre for the Arts and Crafts (1991) is the largest hand-weaving studio in Canada. The studio was formed in 1970 with printmakers (mostly elders) and weavers (young skilled seamstresses); now there are younger printmakers as well. These storytelling and tapestry artists work together to produce art depicting the beliefs, environment and history of the Inuit people.
The settlement of Rankin Inlet (incorporated in 1975) is located on the northwest coast of Hudson Bay in the southern region of Nunavut. The village, on rocky ground with sand and gravel ridges, is surrounded by low rolling hills in this barren area.
This site was a re-located one when residents of the interior Barren Grounds were moved here because of starvation caused by the failure of the caribou. At their new location, the Inuit harvested beluga, seal, walrus and whale; and when the caribou returned, it was hunted along with the fox, muskox and polar bear. The residents also fished for Arctic char, Arctic trout and Arctic grayling.
Rankin Inlet became a mining centre from 1955 to 1962 when nickel concentrate was mined by the North Rankin Nickel Mines Ltd. After the closure of the mine, re-location was suggested, but the Inuit, who had comprised “80 per cent of the workforce” during the mine’s operation, were not interested in moving. First, they had become accustomed to the steady employment and the amenities that were provided in the town. Secondly, “many” Inuit could not return to their traditional way of life as they had disposed of the means to do so. Therefore, the people remained in the town and with time small industries were set up including an Inuit arts and crafts centre; an Anglican Church was established in 1964. When the mine closed in the fall of 1962, the settlement “numbered well over six hundred people”. Then in the summer of 1964, the population was “less than half that number” (Williamson, p. 2); the greater number of the people went to an area approximately a hundred miles from Rankin Inlet. There, in Winchester Inlet, a fish cannery was later set up.
In 1987, the population of Rankin Inlet was 77% Inuit, 2% First Nations (Dene) and Metis and 21% non-Aboriginals with Inuktitut and English spoken. In 1989, the settlement - second largest community - had a CIBC bank, community hall, co-operative, HBC store, library, two schools (K-6 and 7-12) and a research and training centre (ARTC). There were also three churches: Anglican, Glad Tidings and Roman Catholic. The water transportation used is that of barge service rather than boats. A popular sport is the Snowmobile Race in April. The Arts and Crafts shop with its soapstone carvings and wall hangings in the community hall is a tourist attraction while tourists are offered boat tours.