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Taloyoak *                              [pop: under 1000]

by George Bohlender

Sitting at the foot of a series of rocky hills on the shores of a small body of water known as Stanners Harbor, Taloyoak is the northernmost community on the Canadian mainland [ 6932' north latitude ]. The word taloyoak is a misspelling of the Inuktitut word talurjuaq, meaning "large blind." It refers to a stone caribou blind traditionally used by the Inuit of the area to corral and harvest caribou.


The traditional inhabitants of the Taloyoak [ pronounced "ta-low-ruaq' ] area were named Nattilik Inuit, the Nattilingmiut, a people largely sustained by the abundance of seals in the region, which provided their main source of food and clothing.

The search for the Northwest Passage has played an important role in the contemporary history of the Taloyoak region. The first significant European exploration here occurred between 1829 an d 1833, when Sir John Ross and his crew combed the area after their ship became trapped in ice. Between 1848 and 1860, the area was visited extensively by British and American sailors searching for the lost Franklin expedition.

The foundation of the modern community began in 1948, when poor ice conditions forced the Hudson's Bay Co. to close it's trading post at Fort Ross on the coast of Somerset Island, some 250 kilometres north of Taloyoak. The post was relocated to it's present location at Stanners Harbor, and Taloyoak - then known as Spence Bay - was born.

Shortly after the establishment of the Hudson's Bay Co. post, the RCMP arrived. They were followed by Catholic and Anglican missionaries in the early 1950s. These entities formed the nucleus of the burgeoning community, which grew as the federal government encouraged Inuit to settle in Spence Bay.

In Taloyoak today, the traditional activities such as hunting and trapping remain a prominent part of everyday life. These activities are supplemented by carving, crafts production, and wage employment, which combine to provide a lifestyle balanced between old and new.

Taloyoak: Its Land and Wildlife

As with other Nunavut communities, plants burst to life every spring and summer on the tundra. Countless berries blanket surrounding hills; wild berries and bearberries are harvested by residents throughout the summer. Fields of arctic cotton are reminiscent of fluffy white dandelions and fragrant, dried arctic heather is used as tinder for campfires in this treeless land.

Local bird life includes ravens, seagulls, jaegers, and ptarmigan. Gyrfalcons nest quite close to the community, and snowy owls have been seen from the roadside between Taloyoak and nearby Middle Lake. Huge flocks of ducks and Canada geese also fly over the community on their migrations.

Animals encountered in and near the community include ground squirrels [siksiit], lemmings, weasels, arctic hares, and arctic foxes. Wolves are not usually found near town, and hunters must also travel some distance for caribou. Muskoxen are present further north on the Boothia Peninsula and Somerset Island, and on the barren lands to the south.

The waters around Taloyaok are rich with ringed seals. Whales are generally scarce, but are occasionally spotted further north. Polar bears are found in coastal areas to the north and west.

There are many outstanding fishing spots within walking distance of town. Arctic char can be caught during their autumn run in local lakes and rivers. Ice fishing for lake trout and whitefish is common during late winter and spring. Middle Lake, which is linked to Taloyoak by a seven-kilometre road, is a popular year-round fishing destination. It is also a favorite camping spot in summer, and many families have cabins there.


*Reproduced from the Nunavut Handbook