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Rankin Inlet *          [pop: about 2,200]

by  Jimi Onalik

Ask someone from Nunavut for their first impression of Rankin Inlet, and they may tell you about the wind.

They probably formed that impression from the moment they arrived. Located on the western shores of Hudson Bay, the community is well known for its severe winter storms, which can make the walk from the airplane to the air terminal seem like one of the coldest on Earth. But just as there's more to New York than crime, there's more to Rankin Inlet than the wind.

Today, Rankin Inlet. or Kangiq & iniq as it is known in Inuktitut [ meaning "deep bay/inlet" ], is a bustling community that serves as both a  government town and a transportation hub for the Kivalliq Region. It is Nunavut's second-largest community and the self-described "business capital" of the territory. For the past 20 years, Rankin Inlet has been a regional centre for the government of the Northwest territories, traditionally the largest employer here. Recent cutbacks and layoffs, however, have caused many people to rely less on government as a source of income.  Instead, many Inuit have become entrepreneurs, and their stores, freight expedite services, electrical, plumbing and real estate companies are flourishing. Rankin Inlet has become a community of which its residents are immensely proud.

Originally, Rankin Inlet's roots were in mining, and the a990s suggest the return of mining companies here. Rich mineral deposits in the region including gold, have led to a bit of a boom in exploration. The existence of several major exploration camps nearby hints that an operating mine may someday return.

Ranking Inlet, a gateway to the Kivalliq Region, also attracts tourists who visit to fish, hunt, canoe. or enjoy the land and wildlife. Each year hundreds of travelers bound for the other destinations spend some time in the community.   

In 1993 with the signing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement , Rankin became a major political centre for budding land claims organizations. The head office of the Kivalliq Inuit Association, as well as regional offices for the Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, are located here.


     Rankin Inlet’s history is a story of a people who have triumphed over adversity. The vibrant nature of the community today attests to the determination of the Inuit to overcome their hardships.

    Although Inuit seldom use the actual town site of Rankin Inlet, they hunted and fished in the surrounding area for many years. Artifacts that reveal this use can be found throughout the region. In nearby Ijiraliq (Meliadine) River Territorial Historic Park, generations of Inuit fished for Arctic Char during the spring and fall.

    The Rankin Inlet area has also been an important meeting place for Inuit and outsiders. The mid-1800’s saw the arrival of fleets of American and European whalers in Hudson Bay. To maximize their profits after the long journey to the whaling grounds the whalers often spent a winter or two frozen into the ice. One of these overwintering locations was at Marble Island, about 70km. from Rankin.

    Archeological remains that may still be found on Marble Island paint a stark picture of the whalers’ life here. Despite their best efforts, those men from warmer latitudes weren’t fully able to deal with the Arctic climate. Signs of their attempts to survive – their cabins, storage shacks and even an amphitheatre where they performed plays for each other – are scattered across the island. If you are touring around the area at low tide you’ll spot a ship under water and on nearby Deadman’s Island whalers’ graves are a silent reminder of those who could not adapt. For Inuit, Marble Island has legendary significance; even today, when they visit it, they crawl up to the tide level, showing respect for an old woman shoes spirit is believed to reside there. It is said that those who don’t crawl will encounter bad luck on the anniversary of their visit.

    The relationship between the Inuit and the whalers continued until the early years of the 20th. century. By 1910 the the whale stocks had severely decline d and the whalers stopped coming to the area. During the first half of this century, Inuit contact with outsiders was limited to missionaries and Hudson’s Bay Company traders.

    The 1940’s and ‘50’s were grim times for the Inuit of the entire Kivalliq region. A shift in the migration patterns of caribou led to widespread starvation among the Inland Caribou Inuit. To provide food and supplies to staving Inuit the Canadian government established communities along the west coast of Hudson Bay. Arviat, Whale Cove and Baker Lake were created to serve the needs of the local people.

    Rankin Inlet, however, was formed with a different goal in mind. The Canadian government of the 1950’s believed that the subsistence economy was no longer viable and that modern technology would provide comfort to all. They wanted the Inuit to be brought into a wage based economy. The discovery of large amounts of nickel at Rankin Inlet, and the high price of the mineral during the Korean War, convinced the government to proceed with this plan.

   In 1955 North Rankin Nickel Mines began production. Many Inuit hunters and trappers moved with their families to Rankin Inlet and became miners, working for a wage underground and in the mill. Inuit were brought In from Repulse Bay, Coral Harbour, Chesterfield Inlet and Arviat to take part in what was viewed as a bold, new experiment. This experiment was to introduce the Inuit to the necessary skills for hard-rock mining and to a lifestyle of shift work and paycheques.

    North Rankin Nickel Mines produces high-quality ore and plenty of work for 7 years. The Inuit employees were very hard working and much appreciated by the mine owners. In fact, many Inuit who worked here went on to other mines in southern Canada. Many residents of Rankin Inlet still have mementoes from friends and relatives who worked in towns such as Lynn Lake, Manitoba and Sudbury, Ontario.  

    The mine shut down in 1962, bringing another period of hardship that almost closed the hamlet. Families were now pressured to return to their home communities. Only after a series of negotiations with residents determined to keep their new home on the map, did the government allow Rankin Inlet to stay open.  By now, however, the several hundred people who remained were used to the wage economy; they needed to find the means to support their families. As a result the mid’60’s were marked by a series of enterprising, sometimes bizarre, economic development schemes, not all as successful as the nickel mine.

    In one venture, Rankin Inlet was briefly the site of one of the most northerly farms in Canada, producing chicken and pork for local use. After accounting for the costs of their accommodations, the chickens & eggs from this “farm” proved very expensive. Furthermore, the only affordable food available for the pigs was fish, leading, as you can imagine, to pretty fish-flavoured pork.

    In another case, a cannery was opened to preserve local foods. Apparently though, the market for tinned seal meat and maktaaq in southern Canada was limited as this project did not last very long.

    A successful, albeit short-lived, experiment was the creation of a ceramics studio in 1964.The fine pieces produced by the hunters, trappers, miners and artists were collected by individuals and galleries around the world. Despite the project’s artistic and commercial success the newly formed GNWT never fully backed it; in the early ‘70’s it died a slow death. Happily for art lovers everywhere, this unique studio has been revived recently through the efforts of a local artist. Now a new generation of artists work alongside their elders to produce exotic, eerily beautiful work.

    By the early 1970’s, the headquarters for the Kivalliq Region moved from Churchill, Manitoba to Rankin Inlet. So Rankin was now a government town. The arrival of civil servants and their families revitalized the community. Elders who had been born on the land and had become miners, farmers and artists could not make the transition into government jobs. Their children, however, did find work in the new bureaucracy. They, like their parents, had experienced enormous change. Today they hold positions of power in Rankin Inlet.

Many believe that the resilience of the Inuit, born out of the necessity to adapt to enormous change over the last 50 years, will help the people of Rankin Inlet as they face even greater
changes with the creation of Nunavut.

Rankin Inlet: Land, Weather & Wildlife

   The land around Rankin Inlet possesses a subtle beauty. It’s often said that that its splendor can best be appreciated by seeing it as if through a wide angle lens, or by viewing it up close, as if under a microscope. The huge expanse of rolling hills and sky gives a haunting feeling of closeness to the land. ntricate rock formations, tiny flowers and natural wind-sculpted snowdrifts reveal the triumph of art over a harsh climate.

    All this beauty is easily accessible. The relative flatness of the land and the many ATV’s (all-terrain vehicles) and walking trails nearby make it fairly easy to get out of town and enjoy the glories of the tundra. A 5 minute hike from the edge of the hamlet will have you in a land that appears untouched by humans. You’ll discover the siksiit. In fact summer and fall belong to these ground squirrels, which are everywhere, chattering incessantly from their perches on top of sandy bumps in the land. Overhead, majestic birds of prey, such as the peregrine and the gyrfalcon, keep a watchful eye on the happenings below. Loons, geese, swans and sandhill cranes are other sights to keep your shutter finger busy.

    Farther out on the land you may see small herds of caribou jaunting across the tundra in their endless search for lichen and other food. Curious foxes and the occasional wolf may appear, usually at a distance. Suntanning seals dot the ice nearby, or you may see their small heads bobbing in the waters close to shore. A complete description of all the animals in the area would take up an entire afternoon of sitting and drinking tee with local elders.

    You may come across some animals that are best seen from afar. In the fall it’s not uncommon for polar bears to wander close to town; and in summer, wolverines and even grizzly bears sometimes appear. Unless you are willing to go down in local lore as the tourist who left town with fewer limbs than you arrived with, make sure that on your outings you are accompanied by someone who is familiar with local conditions.

    What’s the weather like in Rankin? It can be damn cold here! Winter, which lasts from the end of October until mid to late March, has temperatures averaging ­in the -30 to -35C range, with some ferocious Kivalliq winds of 15 – 25km/hour. The many blizzards wreak havoc with flight schedules. It gets warmer during blizzards and a lot colder on clear days. To stay warm you’ll have to wear clothing that is at least as sophisticated as that worn by lunar astronauts!

    Thankfully, the climate isn’t always this harsh. Many days in spring and summer are calm and sunny. The trick is to prepared for a wide range of weather  conditions.

    Spring is one of the best times to visit Rankin. Temperatures warm up to the -10 to -20C range. As days grow longer visitors may enjoy brilliant sunshine and also frequent storms. Half of the annual snowfall occurs in March and April.

    A Rankin summer last roughly from mid-June to the end of August. During this period weather conditions vary the most. Every few years, Rankin experiences a snowstorm in mid-June although the average temperatures are in the 10 to 15C range. There are stories though, of tourists complaining because of the midsummer heat, with the temp. climbing up past 30C! In weather like this, expect to find everyone swimming in one of the small local lakes.

    Autumn is brief, usually lasting from the beginning of September to the end of October. You might actually feel colder at this time of year because of the chilly high winds mixed with wet conditions. Expect weather similar to winter in the northeastern United States or southern Ontario or Quebec.

*Reproduced from the Nunavut Handbook