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Igloolik * [pop: approx 1200]

by John MacDonald, with contribuitons from George Qulaut and Louis Tapardjuk

   Situated on an island adjacent to the flat expanse of the Melville Peninsula's eastern coastal plain, the settlement of Igloolik has long been off the beaten track for tourists in the eatstern Arctic.

   Today, wether you come to see people, wildlife or a winderness vastly different from Baffin Island's craggy peaks and fiords, you will find a region rich in its own treasures and well worth exploring

   A visit here takes you not only to the geographic centre of Nunavut but also to what is widely considered the cultural hub of Nunavu. Ancient ties to northern and southern Baffin Island, as well as the Kivalliq and eastern Kitikmeot regions, contribut to the distinct mix of Inuit cultural traditions practised in Igloolik today. The area has long been blessed with abundant whales, polar bears, caribou, fish and waterfowl. These resources continue to provide the economic, spiritual and intellectual basis basis for cultural continuity within Igloolik. People here take immense pride in nurturing Inuit heritage and traditions while embracing the inevitable changes brought on by modernization. The challenge in maintaining this balance is the very essense of Igloolik's vibrancy.


    Situated on an island adjacent to the flat expanse of the Melville Peninsula’s eastern coastal plain, the settlement of Igloolik has long been off the beaten track for tourists in the Eastern Arctic.

    The fertile seas around Igloolik have attracted and sustained arctic hunting peoples for millennia. Information about the area’s earliest inhabitants comes mainly from numerous archeological sites on the island, some dating back more than 4,000 years. The island’s history also lives in timeless Inuit traditions about the legendary Tuniit, believed by archeologists to be the people of the Dorset culture who inhabited the region for almost 1,500 years.

    Many Igloolik families are descended from the famed “Qitlarssuaq” migration to Greenland in the mid-1800’s. A renowned shaman, Qillaq, said to be evading a blood feud, led about 40 Inuit (including many from Igloolik) on an epic journey,

eventually reaching northwest Greenland where they settled amongst the Inuit there. (Qillaq, Qitdlaq in the Greenland form, became known as Qitdlarssuaq, “the great Qitdlaq).

    First direct contact with Europeans occurred when British Navy ships
Fury” and “Hecla”, under the command of Captain William E. Parry, wintered at Igloolik in 1822. Parry’s expedition failed it main goal – the discovery of a north-

west passage. However, with the help of Iligliuk and Ewerat; two Inuit who drew accurate maps of the area for the expedition’s officers, Parry added considerably to European knowledge of the people, the lands and the seas to the north of Hudson Bay. According to local accounts, Parry’s ships were driven from Igloolik by a vengeful shaman who vowed that the white men would never return to the area by sea. Indeed it was over 100 years before another ship was seen in Igloolik waters.

   The island was visited briefly in 1867 and 1868 by the American explorer Charles F. Hall during his futile search for survivors of the lost Franklin Expedition. In 1913, Alfred Tremblay, a French-Canadian prospector with Captain Joseph Bernier’s expedition to Pond Inlet, extended his mineral explorations overland to Igloolik; and in 1921 members of Knud Rasmussen’s Fifth Thule Expedition visited the island. Published reports from that expedition provide a detailed picture of traditional Inuit life just before “modernization” began.

    The first permanent presence of outsiders came with establishment of a Roman Catholic mission in the 1930’s.By the end of the decade the Hudson’s Bay Co. had also set up a post on the island. Over the next 20 years most of the region’s Inuit continued to live in traditional camps in the nearby coastal areas and islands of northern Foxe Basin.

    During this time, two individuals, Ittuksaarjuat and his wife Ataguttaaluk, emerged as highly respected leaders, caring for their people in times of hardship, sharing resources and ensuring co-operation among the region’s camps. Igloolik’s school is named in memory of Ataguttaaluk.

    The present community of Igloolik dates from the late ‘50’s, with the federal government’s increasing administrative interest in the Arctic. By the mid-60’s, a school, nursing  station and RCMP detachment were permanently established, as well as the Anglican mission (1959) and the Igloolik Co-operative (1963). As with other settlements in the eastern Arctic, Igloolik grew rapidly as Inuit families from surrounding camps moved into the community to avail themselves of services offered by government agencies.

    Throughout the changes brought about by growth and modernization Igloolik has never lost sight of its cultural roots, a fact reflected in the day-to-day life of the community and the activities of a number of local organizations. An active elders group, the Inullariit Society, teaches land skills and traditional sewing to the community’s youth and, in co-operation with the “Igloolik Research Centre” sponsors a major oral history project aimed at documenting the elders rich traditional knowledge. In mid-January of every year the Society also organizes a festival to celebrate the return of the sun after winter’s dark period. Igloolik is home to two video production organizations: Igloolik Isuma Productions ( an independent company specializing in Inuit cultural programming) and a local office of the Nanuvut-wide Inuit Broadcasting Corporation. A number on Nunavut government departments have established regional offices in Igloolik, adding significantly to the community’s infrastructure and population.

Igloolik: Land & Wildlife

    In season the island’s flat, accessible terrain, in may parts blanketed with flowering tundra plants, makes birdwatching, hiking and camping especially rewarding. Numerous migratory birds visit the area in late spring and summer, many of them nest locally including loons, geese, eider ducks, terns, jaegers, plovers, snow buntings and owls.

    From late April until June conditions are usually superb for dogteam trips through nearby valleys, lakes and bays or out onto the floe edge. Scattered herds of caribou, basking seals and even walruses can often be seen on these trips.

    Breakup of the sea ice around Igloolik Island  usually occurs in late July or early August. During the subsequent open-water season, which lasts until mid-October, boating excursions into Fury and Hecla Strait are frequently rewarded with the unforgettable sight of bowhead whales on their summer migration to north Foxe Basin.

  *Reproduced from the Nunavut Handbook