Pangnirtung Community History
Note on Place Names: The current official names of places are used here except in direct quotations from historical documents. Thus “Broughton Island” is used only in quotations, for the community whose current official name now is Qikiqtarjuaq. (Broughton Island is still, however, the official name of the island.) The official spelling “Pangnirtung” is used throughout, although in current orthography Panniqtuuq is phonetically more accurate and preferred by many. Names of places that do not have standardized official names will appear as they are found in the source documents, with explanations if required.
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.
Pangnirtung is a hamlet of more than 1,300 people on Cumberland Peninsula, the south-eastern portion of Baffin Island. The community is 12 kilometres from the mouth of Pangnirtung Fiord, on a sloping shelf of land bordered by high hills to the south and tidal water on the north. Pangnirtung is near an area of rich, productive habitat for game animals. Since 1840 the animals of the region have often been the centre of an export-oriented exploitation of the area’s resources.
In 1921, the Hudson’s Bay Company entered the Cumberland Peninsula region and established “Netchilik Post.” In 1923 the RCMP established a detachment in the area and renamed the settlement Pangnirtung.
From 1921 to 1964 the Uqqurmiut, as the people of the region are known, were almost all living in dispersed camps around the edge of Cumberland Sound. However, over a very short period of time the people migrated from the traditional camps to settle in Pangnirtung and utilize the trade, religious, and health services available there.
The community is a major gateway to Auyuittuq National Park of Canada, and as such has many tourist facilities, including accommodations, guides and tour operators. Other exceptional features are the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts, and the headquarters of Pangnirtung Fisheries, a commercial char and turbot operation. The Angmarlik Centre was built in the 1980s to serve as a library and elders’ centre as well as an interpretation centre for visitors to the national park and to the territorial heritage park nearby at the old whaling station on Kekerten Island.
Source: Statistics Canada (2007).
The fiords and offshore islands offer numerous sheltered spots for camp sites and habitat for a wide range of marine mammals. The landfast ice (ice that has frozen along the coast and extends into the sea) was, and still is, one of the most important features of a hunter’s environment, and also one of the most variable – the position of the floe edge varies from month to month and from year to year.
The ringed seal and the caribou are of greatest importance to Inuit life on the land, but fishing for the enormous Greenland whale made the region famous in Great Britain and in New England in the 19th century.
reports and traded baleen (whalebone). In a short time the Uqqurmiut possessed rifles and wooden boats, and took part in the commercial pursuit of bowhead whales. Between 1851 and 1870, Inuit encountered the first American whalers. As a result of these encounters, the Inuit mastered the use of imported weapons and chose to cluster around the whaling harbours for most of the year.
The pattern of centralization around whaling stations developed and lasted until the First World War. Inuit blended their traditional hunt for country food (caribou, whales, seals, ducks, arctic char, shellfish and berries) with periods of reliance on the stations in exchange for labour. The year-round Qallunaat population was very small but stable.
At the end of the whaling era in 1920, the concentrated settlements of Inuit at Blacklead Island (Umanaqjuak) and Kekerten Island (Qikitat) dispersed and resettled numerous coastal and island locations. These camps reached their maximum dispersal around 1930 and then began to retract from the southern extremities. By the late 1930s, people from all the camps met their trading needs by travelling to Pangnirtung.
In 1950 Pangnirtung was the commercial centre for all 600 Inuit of Cumberland Peninsula who came to obtain imported goods. The commercial side of their economy at this time – excluding the considerable value of country food and skins that were used rather than traded – is captured in a table prepared for the RCMP’s Eastern Arctic Patrol in 1952.
Sources of Income of Pangnirtung Inuit in 1950-51
Source: Cantley (1952).
Outpost camps were the preferred mode of living for the Uqqurmiut before the 1960s. There is also evidence that the RCMP and traders were ready to stifle any initiative by individual Inuit to spend more time at the settlements, and even to dictate where they lived and when they moved.
Inuit from the camps were also not welcome in Pangnirtung once they had transacted their business. G.C. Barr (1956, n.p.) reported that “Some of the poorer types of Eskimo have been trying to move into Pangnirtung and loiter away the Summer months, but all the Natives have been told that they can not live in Pangnirtung unless they are employed by one of the White Concerns….. loitering around the Settlement is not permitted.”
In 1940, Pangnirtung had the typical collection of southern institutions – a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, a Mission (Anglican in this case), and a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Post. The settlement also had the only resident doctor in the Qikiqtani Region and a permanent staff of three to four nurses at the hospital. The Industrial Home was located in the upper storey of the hospital and elderly or disabled Inuit were brought by ship from all over the Qikiqtani Region to be housed there. The day school operated fairly continuously, though mainly in winter, from the late 1930s onwards.
Although well-developed in 1940, by 1950 Pangnirtung was failing to keep up with some other settlements which, in wartime, had added a weather station (Arctic Bay, Clyde River) or even an airport (Iqaluit, at the head of Frobisher Bay) during the Second World War.
As the service centre of a district with abundant and stable game resources, Pangnirtung has always supported a substantial population in reasonable security. As a place of dramatic natural beauty, it also attracted more than its share of outside interest.
During this period, the market for sealskins was good and the general health of the people was no worse than average in the Eastern Arctic. There was no Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line site, so there was little or no wage employment and no sudden influx of surplus building materials and popular culture. Pangnirtung in the 1950s was far more isolated and the people less active in managing their relations with the outside than they had been in 1910. This would change abruptly.
By 1970 Pangnirtung was acquiring the facilities and appearance of a modern Arctic settlement. The landing strip was enlarged and facilities for handling passengers and cargo were added. Telephone service was frequently upgraded, and the launch of Canada’s Anik 2 satellite in 1973 brought television to Arctic communities, including Pangnirtung. Pangnirtung embraced the modern world, hosting training sessions and meetings of pan-Inuit political bodies, and adding to its attractions what was, at the time, Canada’s only National Park north of the Arctic Circle.
With both a mission and a hospital, Pangnirtung was an obvious place for southern agencies to experiment with formal schooling, and in 1929 and 1931 school supplies were shipped north. Quarterly reports of enrolment showed 14 children receiving instruction in the winter of 1935 and as many as 45 in the summer of 1932. The seasonal difference reflects the larger number of families at the Mission and trading post in summer. More supplies were shipped in during 1938 and then continuously from 1942 to 1953.
Teachers experimented with different routines to accommodate the seasonal patterns of Inuit life: they dropped schooling from five days a week in fall to three in winter, with the children coming in groups by age for only 90 minutes each. Classes were held in the “native room,” an annex to the Missionary’s residence. Qallunaat children were educated separately, and even young children followed correspondence courses (Grantham, 1953; Smyth, 1953).
St. Luke’s Mission Hospital, built by the Anglican Church, remained in service for over 30 years in Pangnirtung. However, in the years after 1960 there was sometimes no doctor in residence. The hospital closed in 1974 and was replaced by a government nursing station. Along with the Industrial Home, it provided primary care, basic surgical and obstetrical facilities, and space for recuperation after illness and for milder cases of tuberculosis. The close involvement of Etuangat - a local whaler, hunter, traveller, medical officer’s employee, and tradition bearer - with many of the medical staff ensured a degree of cultural sensitivity for patients. His skill as a traveller also meant that patients who fell ill in camp had a good chance of reaching the hospital alive.
As people moved from the camps to the settlement in the mid-1960s, adult education programs provided guidance on nutrition, sanitation, and other subjects that were relevant to permanent dwellings and larger communities and helped to increase the general health of the population.
Before 1950, Pangnirtung was one of the eastern Arctic settlements where the RCMP provided a permanent house for the special constable. In the camps, abundant building materials from ships and shore stations had allowed qammaqs to develop far beyond the limits imposed by pre-contact building materials, and quite large double-walled shelters, timber-framed and covered at least partly with canvas or duck, provided warmth and comfort for those still living on the land. Because Inuit were strongly discouraged from staying in the settlement, this semi-permanent type of shelter was rarely seen there except for what was needed for families of those who were employed around the posts, or the elderly or disabled receiving rations.
Thus, when over 200 Inuit were brought to Pangnirtung during the canine hepatitis emergency in 1962 there was practically nowhere to house them. Apart from some experimental models erected on a small scale, Canada’s housing program for Inuit began in 1959 and only one “Eskimo House” (along with seven staff houses and three eight-bed student hostels) had been erected by 1962. Therefore the people who flooded into the settlement in March and April, 1961, had to erect outpost-type shelters with imported materials on hand. Orthodox town planning had scarcely begun—an as-built plan of the settlement was still on Ottawa’s drafting tables at the end of 1961 – and Pangnirtung had to take its turn with eight other settlements as housing production increased, boosted by a new housing plan in 1965. Under this program, the federal government began “requesting the comments of the local people concerning the siting of their housing units.” In 1969, when the sites of ten low-rental units were to be chosen, the subcommittee which made the choice consisted of John Dialla, Jim Kilabuk, Adam Pudloo, Amosee Etooangat, Simo Veevee, and Peterossee Karpik (LAC, 1969). (As the names indicate, Pangnirtung had moved to a system of Inuit surnames almost a decade ahead of the rest of the Qikiqtani Region.)
Housing programs were transferred to the Government of the Northwest Territories in the late 1960s and building continued to try to keep pace with the movement of people in from the camps, and the natural increase of population. After the oil crisis of 1973 the GNWT Housing Corporation introduced multi-family dwellings and 18 duplex units were installed in Pangnirtung in 1978. That same year, a pilot project saw six Pangnirtung trainees erect a “stick-built” house (i.e. not pre-fabricated). Despite this versatility and sense of urgency, in the mid-1980s, many homes were crowded and a few families were still living in qammaqs on the edge of the community. (Canada, 1979)
Cumberland Sound is the cradle of Christianity in Baffin Island and the Anglican mission at Blacklead Island (1894) was also the place where syllabic literacy (the ability to read a writing system in which characters represent syllables) was introduced. In 1926 the Anglican church sent a missionary to Pangnirtung, and the settlement has been a focus for community and spiritual life ever since. In 1972 the old mission house became the Arthur Turner Training School, where Inuit from throughout the Diocese of the Arctic are trained as catechists. The Church has been served by some 15 ordained ministers since 1926.
Barr, G.C. (1956). Annual Report for Pangnirtung Detachment Areas year ending 31 Dec. 1956. LAC: RG18 Acc. 1985-86/048 box 55, File TA-500-8-11.
Canada. Advisory Committee on Northern Development. Government Activities in the North, 1978-79.
Cantley, J. (1952, November 19). Report to Acting Chief. LAC; RG85 vol. 1207 File 201-1-8 part 3.
Grantham, E.N. (1953). Inspection Report. LAC: RG85 vol. 461, file 630/170-2 part 2.
Houston, J. (1986). Pangnirtung Print Retrospective: 1973-1986. Pangnirtung: Pangnirtung Eskimo Co-operative Ltd.
Kemp, W. (1990). Northwest Territories Data Book 1990/91. In Freeman and Associates (Eds.), Inuit Land Use and Occupancy Project vol. 1: 137. Yellowknife: Outcrop.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (1969). Conditions Amongst the Eskimos, Pangnirtung, NWT, Annual Report Ending December 31, 1968. Library and Archives Canada, RG 18, Acc. 1985-86/048, Box 55, File TA 500-8-1-11.
Smyth, B.P. (1953, December 21). Letter to J.V. Jacobsen. LAC: RG85 vol. 461, file 630/170-2 part 2.
Statistics Canada (2007). 2006 Community Profiles. Canada Catalogue no. 92-591-XWE. Ottawa. Released January 15, 2008. Available online at: www.statcan.ca.
LAC: RG85 Acc. 1997-98/076 Box 43, File 303/170 (Town Planning, Pangnirtung), Attachment to A. Stevenson to A/Director, Territorial Relations Branch, 2 Apr. 1969.
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