Iqaluit Community History

Transitions, 1955 to 1980
Military Origins
Growth of the Settlement
Apex and Ikaluit
Infrastructure and Services
Health and Special-Needs Care
Works Cited

Note on Place Names: The current official names of places are used here except in direct quotations from historical documents. Present-day Iqaluit was formed from a set of communities known as Frobisher Bay, Apex Hill and Ikaluit (also known as the village).

Note: Currently, the histories are only available as drafts. These histories will change in response to evidence (oral and documentary) found during the work of the Commission.



Key Dates


Why is it important?


The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established a post in the area


A weather station and airfield were established at Frobisher Bay by American military commanders


The Canadian government took control of the weather station and airfield


The RCMP detachment opened in Frobisher Bay


The HBC post relocates to Apex


The Canadian government established its first permanent offices in the area


The first school was built in Apex


A rehabilitation centre was established


The Strategic Air Command (SAC) complex was built by the U.S. military


The Canadian government acquired the SAC and turned it into a federal government complex


A 28-bed hospital was opened


The community high school was established


The community acquired hamlet status


The Anakudluk Municipal Center opened in 1974. It included the Village office, the fire hall and the arena.


The settlement of Frobisher Bay is officially renamed Iqaluit

Community Profile

Iqaluit is a city of over 6,000 people located in Frobisher Bay. It is the administrative, health and education centre for the Eastern Arctic and was selected to be the capital of Nunavut in 1995.

Frobisher Bay has a very long human history due to the rich fishing and hunting in the area. With support from Inuit, American military commanders chose the flat land at the end of Frobisher Bay for a weather station and airfield in 1942. The facilities were needed to support the Crimson Route (a program established to fly newly built aircraft from North America to England during the Second World War. The Government of Canada purchased the base and airport from the American government at the end of the Second World War. The RCAF was put in charge of the airport in 1950, although the US continued to occupy part of the property, building the large Strategic Air Command (SAC) complex in 1959.

Hudson's Bay Company post at 'old' Frobisher Bay: staff (?) and Niakongnang (?) in front of building, 1956. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Gavin White fonds, PA-166341.

The Canadian government established its first permanent offices in the settlement in 1953. From 1942 until the early 1960s, the settlement rapidly grew from a military establishment into a major government administrative centre and a large Inuit community. The SAC facility was acquired in 1963by the federal government, which converted it into the first federal complex in Iqaluit. By 1966, the year-round population had grown to 1,400 residents (with a further 500 Inuit living in town for seasonal work) (Government of Canada, 1966). Frobisher Bay became an organized village in 1974 and was officially named Iqaluit in 1986.

Statistical Summary, 2006

Population and dwellings

Iqaluit, City




Population in 2006



Population in 2001



2001 to 2006 population change (%)



Total private dwellings






Aboriginal identity population in 2006



Non-aboriginal identify population in 2006



Table 1: The statistical summary is based on: Statistics Canada. 2006 Community Profiles. Census Subdivision Iqaluit. Ottawa: 2007. Available online at: www.statcan.ca.


Iqaluit is located on the southern part of Baffin Island close to the Sylvia Grinnell River, which runs into Frobisher Bay. The Meta Incognita Peninsula is east of the settlement while the Hall Peninsula lies to the west. The land is dotted with lakes and rock outcrops, and rich vegetation covers the hill with thick Arctic plant life in the summer months. Freeze-up generally occurs in October or November and lasts until June when break up begins. The harbour is relatively shallow and supply ships must anchor a distance from the shore and unload their cargos by barge in time with the tides.

Early Contact Experiences and Trading

Archaeologists have identified Pre-Dorset, Dorset, Thule and Inuit artifacts in many sites around Frobisher Bay, including Tungatsivvik, Qaummaarviit and at Davidson Point (Milne, 2003).

The first European in the area was Martin Frobisher, who travelled to the bay in 1576 thinking it was a strait leading to the Northwest Passage. Near the mouth of the bay he found what he believed to be gold, which led to two other expeditions in 1577 and 1578. On Frobisher’s return to England after the 1578 expedition his “gold” was discovered to actually be iron pyrite. American Charles Francis Hall was likely the next European to visit the area some 300 years later when his search for the Franklin party (a group of English explorers who had gone missing) brought him into the bay. The RCMP and Hudson Bay Company personnel would have been the only regular Qallunaat contacts for the Inuit in the area prior to the 1940s (Meldrum, 1975).

The Hudson Bay Company established a post in Charles Francis Hall Bay near the current settlement in 1914. The post was moved 1920 to Hamelin Bay and again two years later to Ward Inlet (Milton Freeman Research Ltd., 1976). The Ward Inlet post would serve the many camps scattered around the Bay until 1948 when the post was relocated to Apex (Usher, 1971).

In 1942-3, with the construction of the US weather station and airfield, the RCMP reported that 53 Inuit were assisting with the construction of the base. By 1945, only one Inuit was employed and all other Inuit were described as living in seven camps around Frobisher Bay with annual seasonal gatherings near the airfield at Iqaluit (Damas, 2002).


Transitions, 1955 to 1980

Military Origins

Originally known as Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit has had ties with the military since the Second World War with the building of a strategic weather station in 1942-3 called Crystal I, as well as an airfield used for the Crimson Staging Route. Over 24,000 aircraft passed through the airfield during the war. With the end of the European campaign, the airfield was bought by the Canadian government in 1944. When the Americans moved back in the early 1950s during the Cold War, they extended the paved runway to 9,000 feet for Strategic Air Command aerial tanker operations. The area also became a Pinetree Radar Station in 1953 (now dismantled) and the home of a Royal Canadian Navy radio station.

Iqaluit continues to be used by the Canadian military as a Forward Operating Location (FOL) and as a Logistic Support Site (LSS) for the North Warning System (NWS).

Growth of the Settlement

The US Air Force base employed 5,000 personnel, bringing a large influx of Qallunaat to the area for work. There was, however, a lack of employment for Inuit, and the US Air Force maintained a policy of discouraging Inuit settlement in the emerging community. While some Inuit migrated and settled close to the base, for the most part Frobisher Bay Inuit continued their seasonal patterns.

Hon. George Hees, Minister of Transport, visits the Eskimos”, 1958. Source: Library and Archives Canada, National Film Board of Canada, Still Photography Division, PA-114836.

The arrival of federal services in 1953 coincided with a period of community growth and to increased discussion within the federal government about the appropriate response. In 1954 RCMP Inspector Larsen agreed with earlier discussion that separate, housing-equipped “Eskimo Villages” be established at places “where Eskimos are already in the habit of congregating” (Damas, 2002, page 47). One of the goals of the village would be to allow women and children to stay at home while men travelled more efficiently alone. Frobisher Bay was one of the places targeted for the establishment of Eskimo Villages.

By 1956 Frobisher Bay had a population of 650 Inuit (MacBain, 1970). Inuit came from other parts of Baffin Island, especially Cape Dorset and Kimmirut, making the community unique in size and composition in the Central-Eastern Arctic at the time. Between 1956 and 1960, 43 families moved from Kimmirut to Iqaluit, though the migration all but stopped in 1959-60 and some families returned to their previous homes. Kinship dynamics, social services and economic opportunities were likely reasons for the moves in both directions.

The Department of Northern Affairs established its presence at Apex in 1953, erecting a school in 1955 and a rehabilitation centre nearby in 1956. At the same time construction began on the DEW line site and more employment opportunities became available for Inuit (MacBain, 1970). In 1960, there was only one camp in the Frobisher Bay area.

By the mid 1960s, Iqaluit consisted of five distinct areas (Government of Canada, 1966):

  1. Federal area: a large Federal Building containing offices and accommodation for unmarried personnel

  2. Lower Base: a group of multi-unit residences and row houses accommodating approximately 450 non-Inuit personnel and some Inuit families of employed men; commercial and public services, such as the Post Office, snack bar, curling rink, community freezer, liquor store/warehouse, HBC store, bank, recreational association, Legion, and federal school

  3. Ikaluit – an Inuit settlement with a population of approximately 550

  4. Apex Hill – the “Eskimo Village” established by the federal government in 1955, with 418 Inuit and 75 non-Inuit residents, as well as the main HBC complex, the Ikaluit Co-op and the community association building

  5. Airport – containing a hard-surfaced runway of 3,000 metres, taxi-ways, passenger terminal, aircraft hangars and airfield lighting.

Apex and Ikaluit

Apex (also known as Apex Hill) is located on Koojesse Inlet. It was originally established in 1955 by the federal government as an “Eskimo village”, and was intended to be a separate administrative unit physically distinct from Qallunaat at the base area. Residents were served by a community association as early as 1962.

In 1966-7 Apex reached a population of about 600 Inuit. Key buildings were located in the community, including a rehabilitation centre, a municipal storage building, a community freezer, a bath-house, a cadet building, an HBC post, a theatre, a snowmobile repair shop, and a school.

By the 1970s, however, the population of Apex was only 300. Students above grade six were bussed to Frobisher, which was also home to the HBC post. Maintenance of government-owned homes in Apex had become ‘minimal’. In the intervening years, the federal government moved some families to the core of Frobisher and was considering moving others.

Inuit family doing activities near their tent. Source: Library and Archives Canada, Zebulon "Lewis" Leigh fonds, Scrapbook albums, PA-209968.



In 1972, after several studies and resistance on the part of Apex residents to moving, the Commissioner announced that Apex residents could stay in the community. In 1974, after several years of acknowledged neglect, the territorial government made the decision to restrict development and residential construction in Apex, and to establish a “community transportation system” between Apex and Frobisher Bay to give Apex residents better access to the community facilities in Frobisher (Department of Local Government, 1974).

Ikaluit pre-dated the establishment of Apex. During the construction of the military airbase in 1942, a few Inuit families moved to the area, which was near the water and close to the base.

Until the mid 1960s, Ikaluit residents received subsistence-level services. While Apex residents had fuel delivered directly to each home, Ikaluit residents were required to fetch their own fuel from the Imperial Oil Company deport. Similarly, Apex residents had water delivery directly to their home, while Ikaluit residents were required to put open containers on the street and retrieve the water quickly before the dogs began drinking from them.

Today the former Ikaluit contains numerous residences and services. Apex continues to be the home of many Iqaluit families, but the condition of many publicly owned dwellings is deteriorating. However, new construction, increased levels of car/truck ownership, and the acquisition of lots in the area by individuals seeking to take advantage of the community’s natural beauty are contributing to a visible renewal of the area.

Infrastructure and Services

The Northern Canada Power Commission took over operation of the 1000-kw power plant from the Department of Transport in 1959. The Commission completed construction of a central power plant in 1964. The plant was enlarged in 1965 and 1966. By the end of the 1960s, the Commission was also operating the water treatment plant and the utilidor system (a utility corridor holding utility lines) connecting the Federal Buildings and the hospital with the power plant.

The Anakudluk Municipal Center, an imposing landmark in the Iqaluit landscape, opened in 1974. It included the Village office, the fire hall and the arena.

Justice for Adults and Youth

In 1973 the Territorial Council opened the Ikjurtauvik Correctional Centre in Iqaluit, moving inmates from the Baffin Region to the facility from Yellowknife (‘Frobisher to Get Prison This Year,’ 1973). Some residents argued that inmates should be located away from the settlement, but the territorial government wanted to expose inmates to educational opportunities available in the community. Ikjurtauvik was reported to be the first correctional facility to use Inuit custodial staff. When opened, the facility’s program emphasized retraining and land-based outdoor programs.


The federal government began operating schools in the Northwest Territories in 1948, before the Iqaluit was established. As a result, Iqaluit has always been served by government-run schools, either territorial or federal.

The first school was built in Apex in 1955 with two classrooms, a library (shared by the community), nurses’ offices, kitchen and playrooms. In 1958, a second, larger school was built near the airport to serve the growing population of the Lower Base and Ikaluit sections of the community. A high school – the Gordon Robertson Education Centre (GREC) – opened in 1971, allowing students from across the Eastern Arctic to complete their schooling in Iqaluit.

As in other parts of the Arctic, teachers who came to Iqaluit had received brief training in Inuit culture but no language training (Honginmann, J.J. & Honginmann, I., 1964). Schools were flexible concerning student absences for hunting and fishing. In 1964, anthropologists reported that the principal permitted children to leave for spring camp and that teachers were encouraging administrators to reconsider the school year to allow more time for children to accompany their families on the land (Honginmann, J.J. & Honginmann, I., 1964). The same observers also noted that sons of tradesmen did not have the same opportunities to live on the land and were facing a quandary with respect to the purpose of formal schooling.

Health and Special-Needs Care

[Dr. C. Davies examines eyes of Lee Teea, an Inuit woman of Frobisher Bay area while Rev. G.A. Russell acts as interpreter] July 1951. Source: Library and Archives Canada, National Film Board of Canada, Still Photography Division, PA-126556.

The Frobisher Bay Rehabilitation Centre began work in 1958 with an Inuk as acting superintendent. Initially, clients were recovering TB patients who were given experience in art, crafts, sewing, carpentry and baking. Very quickly, however, individuals with

mental health conditions and other illnesses were brought into the centre for care. It was closed in 1964.

The Department of National Health and Welfare opened a 28-bed hospital in Iqlauit in 1964. It included a clinic and public health services. In the 1960s, medical transfers by plane required support from private charter companies or the RCMP. The Department did not have its own aircraft. Any children with special conditions, such as hearing or visual impairments, were sent south.


Throughout the 1950s few Inuit chose to settle even temporarily in Iqaluit because there was little wage employment and military personnel did whatever they could be discourage settlements (Meldrum, 1975). Inuit who stayed erected dwellings constructed of discarded packing and building materials near the military base at Koojesse Inlet. Of the 304 Inuit living in the area in 1951, only 50 lived at the settlement year round.(MacBain,1970) Although the permanent Inuit residents were settled near the base, the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources decided to establish offices, a school and the rehabilitation centre nearly five km away at Apex. The first Inuit pre-fabricated houses would be erected in this area and provided to rehabilitants. The Apex area would also later house Inuit working for the Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources.( Honigmann and Honigmann, 1965) Some Qallunaat lived in Apex, but the majority lived close to the base in larger houses or in the apartment buildings ( Honigmann and Honigmann, 1965).

The first “Eskimo Houses” were constructed in 1955. Doug Wilkinson, the Northern Services Officer in Iqaluit, reported on the first winter spent in the houses and discussed whether houses should be sold or rented to Inuit. He said that ““proper housing is not only a roof over the head, but it is an important cog in the machinery for developing a new social existence for the wage earning Eskimo, his wife and family.”1

The quality and condition of housing in Iqaluit continued to be a problem in the 1970s. The settlement’s first public housing project was completed in 1974.2 It consisted of 20 units with rental fees set by income level, a program established by CMHC for co-operative housing in all parts of Canada.

Inuit carver Etcolopea at work in his igloo putting the finishing touches on a seal carving with a file, March 1956. Source: Library and Archives Canada, National Film Board of Canada, Still Photography Division, PA-180267.

In the same year, Moshe Safdie and Associates unveiled its proposed designs for housing in Iqaluit that were never constructed and a town plan that was never implemented.

Returning to the Land

In the 1970s, various individuals and groups proposed leaving Iqaluit to return to living on the land in camps. In 1971, for instance, the regional game officer from Frobisher Bay reported that eight families were intending to return to the land (Department of Local Government, 1971). They requested that the government create a hunting reserve in the proposed camp area on Beekman Peninsula (about 200 km southeast of Iqaluit). The territorial officer said that he was impressed by their sincerity but that he did not expect to see all of the families go through with a move. He recommended that they be provided with support to establish a good summer camp and that a game census of the area be taken.


Due to the size of the community and the number of non-Inuit residents, alcohol issues were often the headline news in the Iqaluit. The newspaper Inukshuk reported that Inuit “complained that liquor has been imposed upon the community without consulting the inhabitants” (“Frobisher Citizens Confront Liquor Licensing Board,” 1973, page 1). Numerous attempts were made on the part of administrators and Inuit to limit alcohol sales and consumption in the community.

Works Cited

Damas, D. (2002). Arctic Migrants, Arctic Villagers. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queens.

Department of Local Government (1974, 25 September). Memo. Northwest Territories Archives, Department of Local Government, G-1998-013, Box 1 of 21, File # 21-000-800, vol. 1, General Administration – Municipal Affairs.

Department of Local Government (1971, 14 June). Letter. Northwest Territories Archives, Department of Local Government, G-1998-013, Box 15 of 21, File # 22-003-800, vol. 1, Economic Development and Growth.

“Frobisher’s first public housing nearing completion,” Inukshuk, 4 January 1974: 20

“Frobisher Citizens Confront Liquor Licensing Board” (1973, 14 December). Inukshuk, page 1.

“Frobisher to Get Prison This Year” (1973. 29 June). Inukshuk, page 7.

Government of Canada (1966). Advisory Commission on the Development of Government in the Northwest Territories, Settlements of the Northwest Territories, Vol. 2. Ottawa.

Honginmann, J.J. & Honginmann, I. (1964). Frobisher Bay Eskimo Childhood, North, 11 (5).

MacBain, S.K. (1970). The Evolution of Frobisher Bay as a Major Settlement in the Canadian Arctic. MA thesis, McGill, 1970.

Meldrum, S.M. (1975). Frobisher Bay: An Area Economic Survey, 1966-1969. Ottawa: Policy and Planning, ACND Division, Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

Milne, S.B. (2003). Identifying Pre-Dorset structural features on southern Baffin Island: Challenges and considerations for Alternative sampling methods. Études/Inuit/Studies, 27( 1-2), pages. 67-90.

Milton Freeman Research Limited (1976). Inuit Land Use and Occupancy Project. Ottawa: Minister of Supply and Services Canada.

Usher, P.J. (1971). Fur trade posts of the Northwest Territories, 1870-1970. Ottawa: Northern Science Research Group, Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

1 LAC, RG 85, Vol. 1267, File 1000/169 pt.7, Letter to the Chief, Arctic Division, Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources from Doug Wilkinson, N.S.O., 4 June 1956. Abstract from the Nunavut Social History Database.



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