Arctic Bay Community History
Note on Place Names: The current official names of places are used here except in direct quotations from historical documents. 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.
The Arctic Bay region has been intermittently inhabited for approximately 5000 years (Canadian Encyclopedia, n.d.). The community of Arctic Bay (pop. 690) is located on the northern shore of Adams Sound, just east of Admiralty Inlet on northern Baffin Island. The hamlet was incorporated in 1976. Ikpiarjuk, meaning ‘pocket’, is the Inuit name for the community. The main landscape feature is King George V mountain, located approximately 1.5 km east of the community. The nearby Nanisivik mine (est. 1974-1976), located on Strathcona Sound less than 40 km from the community, has largely been responsible for the transformation of a hunting/trapping economy to the current wage based economy. The mine is connected to Arctic Bay by a gravel highway, the only highway on Baffin Island. Caribou, fish processing and tourism all contribute to the economy of Arctic Bay.
Source: Statistics Canada (2006).
Arctic Bay is situated on a gravel beach nestled in between the waters of Adams Sound and the high, glaciated hills that surround the community. The bay contains deep water, allowing large ships easy anchorage (Adams, 1941). The coastlines are characterized by a multitude of long narrow fiords, inlets and bays. Breakup occurs from mid to late July and freeze up occurs from late September to mid October (Bissett, 1968).
Early Contact Experiences and Trading
The current site of Arctic Bay has been inhabited irregularly by Inuit and their ancestors for thousands of years. Whalers visited the area in the 18th and 19th centuries, although no whaling station was ever established in the Arctic Bay region.
In 1934, a government-sponsored relocation scheme collected the nine families from Pond Inlet, Cape Dorset and Pangnirtung and moved them to Dundas Harbour, approximately 200 km from Arctic Bay. In addition to the re-establishment of the HBC post, nine Inuit families were relocated to Arctic Bay in 1936. While game conditions were reported as exceptional in the Dundas Harbour area, the environment proved largely uninhabitable and after two years the Dundas Harbour Inuit decided that they wanted to return home. While relocated Pangnirtung Inuit were allowed to return to their homes, Cape Dorset and Pond Inlet Inuit were sent to Arctic Bay. They were again relocated the following year to Fort Ross and finally to Spence Bay in 1947 (Government of Canada, 1994).
Arctic Bay in 1950 was a small Qallunaat settlement with an HBC post and Department of Transport weather station. The HBC post had been operating continually in the area since 1936. A weather station was established in Arctic Bay in 1942 and operated by the Department of Transport until 1952 (Canadian Encyclopedia, n.d.), when the maintenance of the station was taken over by HBC personnel (Government of Canada, 1966). A few Inuit working in the settlement lived there, but the majority of Inuit in the Arctic Bay region still lived in camps. The community was serviced by the Pond Inlet detachment of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), which made annual patrols to the settlement and camps in the area.
Increasing government services in Arctic Bay drew the Inuit camps closer to the settlement after 1950. In 1961, Arctic Bay’s Inuit population was 44 while 139 Inuit were reported to have traded there. By 1967, the community’s population had increased to 159, with only 55 Inuit trading at the centre (Bissett, 1968). Inuit remaining in camps were located at either Avartok or Koogalalek less than 20 km from the settlement.
The 1960s saw increasing government involvement and greater income levels in Arctic Bay. A school and an Indian and Northern Health Services (INHS) field station were erected in the community in 1962. In 1963, Texas Gulf employed 20 men as casual labourers conducting explorations in the Strathcona Sound area (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 1962). A low-cost housing program was introduced into the community that same year with the arrival of four single-room houses (Bissett, 1968). Eighteen three-bedroom houses were erected in the settlement between 1966 and 1967 (Bissett, 1968). Bi-weekly flights from Resolute began in 1965 with the establishment of Atlas Aviation.
Throughout the 1960s, Inuit of Arctic Bay were dependant on the HBC post for trade. Inuit visited the community to trade or for the weekly movies and dances held at the school, but the community lacked any real economic base beyond the constructed federal presence. Despite the increasing government agencies located at and involved with Arctic Bay the community developed in the 1960s as a “holding” community. More and more Inuit were migrating into the community to be near their children, who were enrolled in the federal day school.
The economy of Arctic Bay would be transformed in the 1970s by resource development. Panarctic Oils Limited began hiring Inuit from Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet in 1971 to work on its exploration sites in the High Arctic. As of 1973, eight people were employed by government agencies in Arctic Bay and 12 worked for Panarctic. Employees were hired to work on a cyclical basis. Arctic Bay Inuit were flown to Panarctic sites, worked 20 days and were flown back to the community for 10 days off. The community experienced a far greater income level than had ever been present in Arctic Bay before (Gourdeau, 1973).
The HBC store struggled to keep items in stock as the men returned from work and bought up all of the hunting equipment at the store. Alcohol consumption also increased in the community. The men complained about the cyclical work schedule; it was too long to be away from their families and 10 days off was insufficient time to go hunting.
Construction of the Nanisivik Mine on the shores of Strathcona Sound 37 km from Arctic Bay began in 1974 (Baffin Region Inuit Association, 1980). A road was built in 1976 connecting Arctic Bay to the instant mining community at Nanisivik. The road soon proved to be a well travelled route for the people of Arctic Bay (Eirss, 1977). The airstrip at Nanisivik received all the supplies for Arctic Bay as well as for the mining community. Inuit from Arctic Bay would no longer have to work the cyclical 20 days on 10 days off schedule imposed by Panarctic. With the development of the Nanisivik Mine workers could travel to the mine each day and return home after work. Arctic Bay received hamlet status in 1976 in order to be better equipped to deal with the mine and the influences development would have on the community.
Technological innovations and the pressures of full time wage employment changed traditional hunting patterns. By the mid 1970s hunters travelled to Agu Bay by snow machine to mass hunt and fish. Fish were brought back to Arctic Bay by snow machine, and caribou meat was flown back by a DC-3 plane chartered out of Resolute (Innuksuk & Cowan, 1976). By 1977, the Canada North Almanac reported that hunting was no longer the main economic base of the community (Koring, 1975).
In 1965, Arctic Bay was connected to a radio telephone circuit operated by the Bell Telephone Company, which linked northern communities with each other as well as southern centres (Bissett, 1968). Apart from the radio circuit phone, no infrastructure was in place in the community until the arrival of the Nanisivik mine in 1974. By 1977 the community was still trucking in the water supply, the heating oil and collected honeybags that were buried at the dump. The community centre had a capacity of 120 people and provided a space for recreation activities and community meetings. There was no public transportation, and no public accommodations or restaurant facilities had been established (Koring, 1975).
In the 1970s, education became the responsibility of the territorial government in Yellowknife. Under pressure from aboriginal groups across the territories, including the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC), better schools were built and new learning materials were developed. During this time, federal government representatives and Inuit living in Arctic Bay visited the remaining camps in the Arctic Bay area and told the residents that they must move to the settlement to send their children to school (Douglas, 1994). In 1977, the school offered classes from kindergarten to grade eight and had six staff.
Early housing programs were directed at improving the housing conditions of Inuit in the camps. In 1956 both Koogalalek and Avartok camps received four one-bedroom houses. (Bissett, 1968) These permanent, year round shelters were ill-suited to the north and often had the effect of increasing infectious diseases.(Brody, 1987)
Low-cost housing arrived in the settlement of Arctic Bay in 1963 with the erection of four one-bedroom houses. In between 1966-1967 18 three-bedroom houses were erected.(Bissett, 1968). A housing association was started in 1969 (Innuksuk and Cowan, 1976).
In 1937, Oblate missionaries established a mission at Arctic Bay (Bissett, 1968) while Anglican missionaries built a mission south of Arctic Bay at Moffet Inlet (Diocese of the Arctic, n.d.). The Moffet Inlet mission was closed 10 years later after the fatal accidental shooting of Canon John Turner. The Oblate mission was closed in 1960 after being unoccupied since 1954 (Bissett, 1968; Government of Canada, 1966). In 1965, All Saints Anglican church was constructed in Arctic Bay and a mission house was built there in 1978.
Adams, J.Q. (1941). Settlements of the Northeastern Canadian Arctic. Geographical Review 31 (1), p. 118.
Arctic Co-operatives, Ltd. (n.d.). Arctic Bay. Retrieved 15 April, 2008 from www.arcticco-op.com.
Baffin Region Inuit Association (1980). Socio-economic impacts of the Nanisivik Mine on north Baffin region communities: executive summary. Ottawa: Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Bisset, D. (1968). Northern Baffin Island: an Area Economic Survey. Ottawa: Industrial Division, Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
Brody Hugh. (1987) Living Arctic: Hunters of the Canadian North. Vancouver; Seattle: Douglas & McIntyre ; University of Washington Press.
Canadian Encyclopedia (n.d.). Arctic Bay. Retrieved 13 April, 2008 from www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com.
Diocese of the Arctic (n.d.). Arctic Bay. Retrieved 13 April, 2008 from www.arcticnet.org.
Douglas, A.S. (1994). Recontextualizing Schooling Within an Inuit Community. Canadian Journal of Education. Revue Canadienne De L'ưeducation, (19 (2), p. 159.
Eirss, N. (1977, October 6). Dirt Track is lifeline for Arctic Bay. Nunatsiaq News, 5 (35) p. 18.
Gourdeau, E. (1973). Notes on the Social Impact of Panarctic’s Employment Policy in Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet. Montreal: Arctic Institute of North America.
Government of Canada (1994). Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, vol. 1: Looking Forward Looking Back. Retrieved 13 April 2008 from www.ainc-inac.gc.ca.
Government of Canada (1968). Carrothers Commission: Settlements of the Northwest Territories; Descriptions Prepared for the Advisory Commission on the Development of Government in the Northwest Territories. Ottawa.
Innuksuk, R. & Cowan, S. (1976). We Don’t Live in Snow Houses Now: Reflections on Arctic Bay. Ottawa, Canadian Arctic Producers.
Koring, P. (1975). Canada North Almanac. Research Institute of Northern Canada.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (1968). Conditions Amongst the Eskimos, Pond Inlet, NWT, Annual Report Ending December 31, 1968. Library and Archives Canada, RG 18, Acc. 1985-86/048, Box 55, File TA 500-8-1-12.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (1967). Conditions Amongst the Eskimos, Pond Inlet, NWT, Annual Report Ending December 31, 1967. Library and Archives Canada, RG 18, Acc. 1985-86/048, Box 55, File TA 500-8-1-12.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (1962). Conditions Amongst the Eskimo, Pond Inlet NWT: Annual Report Ending December 31, 1962. Library and Archives Canada, RG 18, Acc. 1985-86/048, Box 55, File TA 500-8-1-12.
Statistics Canada (2006). Community Profiles, 2006 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 92-591-XWE. Ottawa. Released January 15, 2008. Available online at: www.statcan.ca.
1 LAC, RG 85, Vol. 497, File 630/135-3, part 1. NWT R.C. Mission. (Reference provided by the NSHDB).
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