Clyde River Community History
Note on Place Names: The current official names of places are used here except in direct quotations from historical documents. Thus “Clyde River” and “Iqaluit” are used, even if Clyde River is known as Kangirqtugaapik locally and Iqaluit was formerly called Frobisher Bay. Names of places that do not have official names will appear as they are found in the source documents.
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.
Clyde River was recently chosen as the home of the main campus of Nunavut’s new cultural school, Piqqusilirivvik. The territorial government pointed to the strength of the community’s Inuit culture and language and its lack of existing government offices as factors that influenced the decision to locate the school in the community.
Source: Statistics Canada (2006)
The town site is situated on a shallow gravel ridge that is surrounded by high hills. Clyde Inlet extends into Baffin Island for almost 100 km and is typical of the many deep fiords and inlets that define the ragged coastline of eastern Baffin Island. North of Clyde River, a low coastal plain extends from the coastline for several kilometers inland. South of the settlement a low terraced plain runs parallel from the coastline for several miles inland until connecting with low rising hills (Canada, 1947). Some of the most prominent features in the area are the numerous icecaps and glaciers located in the interior of eastern Baffin Island.
The exploration-contact period was first documented by William Edward Parry who sailed into Lancaster Sound in 1819 as part of a British Admiralty expedition to explore Lancaster Sound and the eastern Baffin Island coast. During his journeys, he encountered a group of whalers who reported an “Esquimaux camp” located at Clyde Inlet. Geographer, George Wenzel who has studied the area extensively is not convinced the area was settled. Wenzel tells us that before the arrival of the HBC in the 20th century “it is impossible to determine whether the region was “settled” as per Parry’s limited observation or saw only limited and/or occasional seasonal use as reported by Boas.” (Wenzel, 2008). Evidence suggests that Inuit living in the Clyde River region in the period included some Akudnirmiut (Home Bay to Scott Inlet) settlements interspersed with seasonal visits by Tununirmiut. A 1903 expedition to the area under the direction of the Canadian Geological Survey using the ship SS Neptune estimated the population in the area near Clyde River and Home Bay to be about 90 (Grant, 2002).
Throughout the 19th century, Inuit from the Clyde River region were in contact with whalers from Scotland, England and America. The whale population had been greatly reduced by the end of the 19th century, forcing whalers to fish the waters of Baffin Bay and Davis Strait (Bissett, 1968). With increased trade between Inuit and whalers, Inuit adapted European technology into daily life. Tobacco, guns, ammunition, fox traps, saws, hatchets telescopes, pots, musical instruments, sewing machines and other items led to changes in hunting techniques, diet and clothing. Contact with Europeans also introduced new diseases into groups (Grant, 2002).
The Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post at Clyde River in 1923. The same year, a competing trade company, the Sabellum Company, established a post in Henry Kater Peninsula, just over 100 km south of the Clyde River Post. Government records indicate that there were approximately four camps, while ethnohistorical evidence suggests there were more winter camps located throughout the region (Wenzel, 2008).
Between in 1935 and the early 1940s the HBC unilaterally relocated families from Lake Harbour, Cape Dorset and Frobisher Bay to the Clyde River region to take advantage of the abundance of fur bearing animals (Wenzel, 2008). In 1942, the United States Army established a weather station at Clyde River, next to the HBC post.
Changes in Population of Camps and Settlements, 1961 and 1966
Source: Foote et al. 1967.
During the winter, camps would be set up near the headlands of the fiords to take advantage of the sealing holes. Inuit groups moved west during May and June and take advantage of the fishing sites at the heads of the fiords, sometimes utilizing rock weirs and establishing camps. In the summer, Inuit travelled along the river valleys towards the inland caribou grounds. The return migration east would begin in autumn arriving at the heads of the fiords in time to take advantage of the char fishery. It would complete its east-west cycle and finish in the winter with a return to camps near the headlands of the fiords. Interestingly, George Wenzel states that the arrival of the HBC in the 1920s did not have as damaging an effect on traditional hunting patterns of the Clyde River Inuit as it had in other communities because fox trapping occurred only on the sea ice in conjunction with the seal hunt (Wenzel, 2008).
During the 1930s and 1940s a number of families migrated to the “core” of the region at Eglinton and Sam Ford fiords. Estimates of the population during the 1940s indicate that approximately 140 and 180 people were living between Coutts Inlet and Henry Kater Peninsula. The extended-family winter camps were more permanent that earlier in the century, possible a result of the increased population (Wenzel, 2008).
The HBC post and a US Department of Transportation weather station (which had been taken over by the Canadian Government prior to 1950) were the only Qallunaat agencies located at Clyde River in 1950. The buildings of both agencies were clustered together on the east side of Patricia Bay (Canada, 1947). The RCMP patrolled the area from Pond Inlet.
The population of the entire Clyde River region in 1951 was approximately 120 to 140 people (Wenzel, 1991). A few Inuit and their families lived in the settlement and worked for Qallunaat agencies but the majority of Inuit only travelled to the settlement to trade or at ship time. The HBC trader was responsible for distributing family allowance and acting as lay dispenser.
In 1953, the RCMP established a detachment at Cape Christian, approximately 16 km northeast of the Clyde River HBC post. In 1954, at Cape Christian, the United States Coast Guard built out of pre-fabricated units a long range navigation site, also known as LORAN site.
As soon as work started on the LORAN site, the RCMP reported that Inuit of the area were spending too much time near the settlement. Constable E.A. Marshall wrote:
… much of their time is consumed by travelling back and forth from their camps to the settlement instead of following their natural pursuits of hunting and trapping. … [F]or the last few years there have been a considerable number of white personnel stationed [at the Cape Christian LORAN station] at Clyde River. … Naturally these men have little knowledge of conditions amongst the Eskimos and on the whole have felt sorry for them and have consequently given the native [sic] articles of clothing, food fuel, oil, etc. … the effect it has had on the natives here are now given over to spending their time in the settlement trying to scrounge the necessities of life. One of the things that makes this condition apparent is the fact that there are four or five families living about 150 miles from the settlement who only come in two or three times a year to trade. These natives usually appear in goo native-made clothing, trade a considerable amount of furs, are not so dependant [sic] upon receiving Family Allowances, and appear to be in better health and spirits (RCMP 1953).
While the RCMP worried about Inuit associating with US Coast Guard and Canadian Department of Transportation personnel, they also reported that the base provided a market for Inuit crafts and clothes. The trade was conducted through the RCMP “in order to ensure that the natives received the proper price for their labours” (RCMP, 1953). By 1957, the loitering problem was declared to be “solved” by strict enforcement of a policy of encouraging Inuit to return to the camps and discouraging Qallunaat from providing handouts (RCMP, 1957).
The Eskimos now find themselves with new restrictions and codes of conduct, which are presented to them with little or no explanation. The lack of education is a serious handicap to equipping the Eskimo with the proper attitude toward civilization, and his forthcoming place in it. (RCMP, 1959).
The Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources (DNANR) delivered a school to Clyde River in 1960. By 1963, Clyde River included HBC and Department of Transport buildings, four low-cost “370”-style Inuit houses, two DNANR houses, a warehouse/power building and the school. Two eight-bedroom hostels had been delivered in 1962 but didn’t have all theparts needed for construction. Four other low-cost Inuit houses were also delivered but were never constructed. Clyde River seemed to be on the cusp of a large-scale building program until September of 1963, when the Assistant Administrator of the Arctic, R.L. Kennedy wrote the Director of DNANR regarding poor building conditions in Clyde River. Parts of the community were muskeg over permafrost and there no local source of gravel closer than five km. Additionally, there would not be enough room at the current settlement site to accommodate future expansion. Kennedy recommended that all impending construction halted and efforts be made to find an alternate town site. (Kennedy, 1963).
Prior to all of the residents in the community, now numbering 160, (RCMP, 1967) moving across the bay, however, a new town site needed to be laid out; roads needed to be constructed; and water and fuel infrastructure put in place. Extensive construction delays caused great hardships for the community and eventually forced a motion at the N.W.T. Council:
WHEREAS the settlement of Clyde River is in a most deplorable condition due to lack of housing, nursing station, school and people;
AND WHEREAS there has been a deplorable lack of supervision in the settlement resulting in crated buildings unavailable to the public;
AND WHEREAS the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development had delayed building due to uncertainty as to a suitable town site;
NOW THEREFORE, I move that the Government of the Northwest Territories ask the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to refrain from moving the present town site and to develop the present town site at greatest speed possible to alleviate the over-crowding, the poor health conditions, and the poor education facilities (Hodgson, 1969a).
In discussion of the motion NWT council member Simonie Michael elaborated the “deplorable conditions” at Clyde River. The school which had been in the community since 1960 was now housing over 88 children and although a larger school had been delivered in 1968 it was still sitting on the beach. Three new houses had been erected by the construction crews but were also occupied by them. The people in Clyde River were living in “cracker-boxes” and used oil drums as stoves, burning whatever they could find to heat their homes. The community still had no nursing station, although one had been requested four years earlier.
Visiting the community in 1969, NWT Commissioner Stuart Hodgson reported that the community was a divided settlement. Patricia Bay separated the old town site and the new town site (Hodgson, 1969b). Two boat accidents in the summer of 1969 resulting in two deaths illustrated the physical dangers of dividing a community. In the face of this social divide and the danger travelling across the bay, the Regional Administrator recommended that the community be reunited as soon as possible. The cost of the moving of the remaining buildings at the old site was estimated to be $12,550 (Faulkner, 1969).
The town site was relocated probably in the early in the 1970s, although some of the buildings remained at the old town site. After the community had been moved to the new site, the RCMP detachment was relocated from Cape Christian to Clyde River and an airstrip was developed north of the community. Camps were still located at the old site, but were only used in spring and summer. In 1974, the USCG abandoned the Cape Christian post turning it over to the Canadian Government. On July 1st, 1978 Clyde River received Hamlet Status (Clyde River Gets Hamlet Status, 1978).
One of the greatest challenges to Inuit of Clyde River in the 1970s may have been the lack of jobs. Inuit who took housing in the settlement needed to generate cash to pay rent, purchase goods from the HBC and maintain their snowmobiles and boat motors. However, there was no large employer in the community or abundance of jobs (Barber, 1999). Qallunaat agencies in the community would have employed some of Inuit, but the main source of income still came from harvesting seal and other animals (Wenzel, 1989).
Attempts in the 1970s to establish a strong craft industry or lasting cooperative seem to have failed. First the Qimikjuk Cooperative replaced the Nanook group in 1974 (Clyde River Notes, 1974) and later the Igutaq group received government funds to make sewn art and crafts, however without continual outside support, the group would not be able to survive (Barber, 1999).
The Loran base closed in 1974. In 2007, the federal government announced that clean-up of the site would begin in 2008.
The school was delivered to Clyde River in 1960. Shirley Smith was the first teacher in the community and was replaced the following year by Harvey Gale (RCMP, 1961). The establishment of a permanent school worried the RCMP officer stationed at nearby Cape Christian. Constable R.E. Boughen reported that Inuit brining their children to the community for school and waiting around the settlement for a few days. Sometime they even participated in night classes. However, Boughen cautioned, if camp children started attending school regularly it may lead to parents loitering around the community to avoid “breaking-up” the family (RCMP, 1962).
Two eight-bedroom hostels delivered to the community in 1962 were not erected due to construction delays. Again, the RCMP constable was wary of an increase in loitering with the arrival of the hostels. Constable J.T. Parsons stated “members of this department will be working along with the teacher to try and populate the hostel without breaking up the camp Eskimos and causing them to loiter around the settlement…” (RCMP, 1962).
Adult education courses were likely offered in the community since the inception of the school. The first Adult educator, however, did not arrived in Clyde River until 1973; his name was Larry Okkumaaluk (Other Settlement News, 1973). Other teachers who taught at Clyde River included Mr. and Mrs. Garrity (1964) and Mr. and Mrs. Scullion (1966) (RCMP, 1964 and 1966).
Because of the distance of the RCMP from the settlement throughout the 1950s and 1960s the HBC post officer acted as the lay dispenser (RCMP, 1963). In some cases, the United States Coast Guard doctor examined Inuit if the illness was severe, but this was not a common practice (RCMP, 1963). An unknown virus killed seven people in the region in the fall of 1956. The RCMP complained that the lack of facilities to treat patients likely caused the deaths of people that might have been saved (RCMP, 1957). An Indian and Northern Health Service short-stay cabin was constructed in 1963, but it is unclear when the first permanent nurse arrived in the community.
When in the camps, Clyde River Inuit lived in seal-skin or duck tents in the summer and Igloos in the winter (RCMP, 1957). In 1955, USCG surplus Atwell huts were provided to some of Inuit living at Clyde River (RCMP, 1957). By 1960, the RCMP reported houses were made of scraps of wood, canvas and sod. They were heated mostly by seal oil lamps and only in the severest of weather would owners use gas stoves (RCMP, 1961).
Welfare houses were introduced to the community in 1962. Five houses were received that year although only four of them were constructed (RCMP, 1962). The houses appealed to Inuit visiting the community during Christmas celebrations. The RCMP reported some Inuit had expressed a desire to have houses but the RCMP cautioned that the design needed modification to make it easily transferable to the camps. (RCMP, 1963). In 1964, there were a total of four welfare houses and four low cost houses in the community. Others living in the settlement lived in shacks. In 1966, seven houses were erected at the new town site (RCMP, 1967). Within five years most of the buildings and houses were moved to the new site. People were still living in the matchbox houses or even in tents as late as 1978 when 11 new houses arrived in Clyde River (Nunatsiaq News, 1978).
The Anglican Church arrived in Clyde River in 1961 but did not have a church building until 1968 when the new church was constructed across the Patricia Bay at the new town site.
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