Resolute Bay Community History
Note on Place Names: The current official names of places are used here except in direct quotations from historical documents. Thus “Resolute” is used, even if Resolute is known as Qausuittuq or Qarmatalik locally and was formerly called Resolute 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.
The Hamlet of Resolute (pop. 229) is Canada’s second most northern community, and is located on the western shore of Resolute Bay on the south shore of Cornwallis Island. It was named after the ship HMS Resolute that participated in the search for English explorer Sir John Franklin. The Inuit name for the town is Qausuittuq, meaning “the place with no dawn.” Other names for the community have included Qarnartakuj, meaning “the place of the ruins,” and Resolute Bay (“First Eastern Arctic Mine,” 1973).
Archaeology provides evidence that the Cornwallis Island region was inhabited from time to time by Tunit cultures as early as 1500 BCE, and afterwards by Thule peoples as recently as 1000 CE (Kemp, et al, 1977). Historic-era Inuit did not establish camps or settlements on the island until the relocations of the 1950s.
Modern habitation of the Queen Elizabeth Islands began in 1947 when the United States and Canada built a weather station at Resolute Bay. Inuit were relocated to the area by the government in 1953 and 1955 from Pond Inlet and Inukjuak (formerly known as Port Harrison). In the 1960s and 1970s some residents left the community and returned to their previous homes, particularly the families that were originally from Inukjuak.
Scientists from all parts of Canada and around the world have used the community as a base for High Arctic studies, attracted to the area by its geographical proximity to the pole and the infrastructure provided by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) base.
Source: Statistics Canada (2007).
Cornwallis Island is part of the Queen Elizabeth Islands. It boasts of a series of low-lying plains and plateaus, which create an almost featureless terrain scattered with rock debris. The island also has several lakes and rivers. The island geography and position are valuable features for Inuit hunting practices.
Between 1953 and 1960 Inuit hunted and trapped along the coasts of Somerset Island and parts of Prince of Wales Island. Hunters also travelled inland to the interior of Somerset Island where caribou were plentiful. After 1960 hunting areas expanded as Inuit learned more about the land.
Caribou hunting still takes place in the spring on the western part of Somerset Island and on Russell Island, often along with the polar bear hunt, and in winter on Prince of Wales Island and Somerset Island. Char is fished throughout Cornwallis Island and Somerset Island in inland lakes and rivers. Smaller animals are also hunted (Milton Freeman and Associates, 1976).
For information on animals in the region, please visit the Animals (add hyperlink) section of this web site.
Four Inuit families were moved to Resolute Bay by ship in 1953 with an RCMP officer. Another six families were relocated to the community in 1955. The government saw the move as a success, but relocated Inuit protested that they had unwittingly participated in an ill-conceived experiment and demanded acknowledgement of wrong-doing by the government. In 1996, the Canadian Government awarded $10 million to the survivors of the relocation, but never offered an apology (Bell, 1996).
The reasons for the government-sponsored High Arctic relocations of the 1950s have been examined by academics, authors, journalists, bureaucrats, independent scholars and, most notably, by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP). There are sharp divisions concerning the reasons for the relocations. Reasons suggested by authors include:
Some families chose to establish camps rather than live in the settlement. Between 1955 and 1960, three or four families occupied camps in the area (Kemp, et al, 1977). Timothy Idlout, his wife Nangat and their 12 children remained at a camp after all the other families left the area in 1967. Idlout lived on the land until 1991 when poor health forced him to move to Resolute. He was the last Inuit to leave camp life for the settlement (Welch, 1993).
In 1947 Canada and the United States established a Joint Arctic Weather Station on the southern coast of Cornwallis Island. An airfield was built as part of the weather station project. Two years later an RCAF base was established near the weather station.
There was no modern Inuit settlement at Resolute until September 1953 when four Inuit families consisting of 23 people, 27 dogs, and RCMP constable Ross Gibson were delivered to the area as part of a government relocation program. Three families came from Inukjuak, while the other family was from Pond Inlet. In 1955, 34 more people were relocated from Inukjuak and Pond Inlet to Resolute under the same government program.
The first year in Resolute was difficult due to “a lack of supplies and inadequate equipment” (Government of Canada, 1994, page 494). In addition to problems posed by substandard housing, a boat without a propeller, insufficient numbers of caribou skins for clothing and inadequate food and ammunition supplies, temperatures were much lower than temperatures in Inukjuak, game and terrain conditions were very different, and there were three months of darkness. Added on top of these hardships were the loss of friendships and kinships with the move and the cultural and language differences between the Pond Inlet and Inukjuak groups.
Early in the 1960s, the federal government officially ended relocations because of scarce game resources in the area. In this period, Inuit were finding casual employment at the RCAF base and weather station, but subsistence still depended on harvesting with supplements coming from carving and trapping (Weissling, 1991). Some Inukjuak Inuit began to petition to return to Northern Quebec (Kemp, et al, 1977).
In 1965, 12 Inuit were permanently employed at the base complex. By 1966, the community counted only one full-time hunter, although most employed men also hunted for food (Damas, 2002). In the opinion of the RCMP officer, progress had proven to Inuit “the benefits and security which employment provided compared to the hardships encountered in their old way of life” (Weissling, 1991, page 206).
The RCMP reported increasing problems in the community that were attributed to excessive alchohol consumption (Weissling, 1991). In 1968, Idlout, a Pond Inlet Inuk famous for his role in A Long Day’s Night, died in a snowmobile accident on his way home after leaving the base canteen where he had reportedly been drinking.
By the 1970s, researchers and geologists seeking natural resources had been travelling to the High Arctic for decades. However, the worldwide energy crisis of the 1970s sped up the search for oil and gas in the Cornwallis Island area. Resolute airport became the largest and busiest airport in the Arctic Circle (“Baffin Neighbourhood,” 1973). Scheduled weekly flights to Resolute from Edmonton, Montréal and Winnipeg began in 1973 (“Transair Okayed, ” 1974). The increased population of transients strained the local infrastructure, and in 1973 discussions began about relocating the Inuit settlement.
A new town site was meant to serve two functions: provide improved water and sewage services and more accommodation options for Qallunaat living off-base in Resolute. In 1974, materials for new buildings were shipped to Resolute and government services were moved to the new town site. Inuit homes were relocated the following year.
The location of the new village was poor from the perspective of Inuit. From this spot, they were unable to observe migrating marine mammals from town, and travel to the ice floe became difficult because equipment had to be hauled across land to boats (Kemp, et al, 1977).
The other major development in the 1970s was the significant decline of the caribou herd on Bathurst Island (Kemp, et al, 1977). Inuit blamed increased Qallunaat activity in the area. In the 1970s, natural resource development and seismic testing in the area were protested fiercely by the Inuit. This resolve eventually led to to the Inuit gaining mineral rights in Land Claim negotiations (McPherson, 2003).
Prior to the relocation of the Inuit village in 1975, the village had poor services, including limited running water and hydro. The new town site boasted improved services. Fuel and water were delivered once a week and garbage was picked up weekly by truck in the summer, and snowmobile and sled in the winter. Buildings at the base complex and in South Camp were serviced by pipes from Char Lake and fuel from the tank farm (Kemp, et al, 1977).
RCMP officer Ross Gibson offered simple schooling to the Inuit children in the first dark winters at Resolute. Leah Idlout took over the role of teacher when she and her father, Idlout of Pond Inlet, moved to the settlement in 1955 (Tester & Kulchyski, 1994). Leah taught school in a small house until she left the community in 1958. Resolute received its first permanent school and a full time teacher also in 1958. A second teacher arrived in 1965 and by 1967 a second classroom was added to the school (Government of Canada, 1994).
In the settlement’s early years the local RCMP officer was tasked with ensuring the Resolute Inuit were in good health. The closeness of the settlement to the RCAF base allowed for easy extraction of patients with serious illnesses to Frobisher Bay or other healthcare centres – weather permitting (Bissett, 1968).
The C.D. Howe provided annual x-rays and vaccinations as well as annual bouts of influenza and unwanted passage to southern sanitoriums for Inuit suffering tuberculosis. The measles was also brought to the Inuit at Resolute in 1957 when the C.D. Howe was forced to stop at Resolute after a number of its Inuit passengers contracted the disease. The infected passengers were off-loaded on the shore near the Inuit village, and while physically separated from the Resolute Inuit, the disease quickly jumped the gap, infecting the Resolute Inuit (Tester and Kulchyski, 1994).
Nurses travelling to High Arctic communities passed through the base at Resolute and often took time to examine the Resolute Inuit. The close proximity to the air base, while providing a convenient means of extraction in the event of serious illness, also provided for much more interaction between Inuit and transient Qallunaat. This resulted in frequent illness and influenza outbreaks (Bissett, 1968). In the 1960s, maintenance of the base complex was contracted out to Tower Company, which installed a permanent nurse in the base. However, the company complained to the Northern Health Service (NHS) about the large amounts of time the nurse dedicated to Inuit patients. In response to the complaint the NHS shipped a temporary nursing station to Resolute in 1968. Tower Company’s nurse staffed the trailer part time until a full time nurse was recruited (Bissett, 1968).
The first year in Resolute was spent in duck tents and later, when the snow conditions were right, igloos. The snow conditions were different in Resolute that what the Inukjuak Inuit were accustomed to and consequently made the construction of the Igloos much more difficult.(Tester and Kulchyski , 1994) When spring arrived, the Resolute Inuit gathered scrap and surplus wood from the RCAF base and the dump and began building homes. By 1957 there were 11 makeshift houses constructed along the beach. The base provided enough electricity to the village for each house to run a single light.
Three houses were shipped to Resolute in 1956 but they arrived to late in the season to be erected. The following year the three buildings intentioned to be homes were constructed and used as a community store, a warehouse and a school. Four newer houses were erected in 1964 with material purchased from the co-op.( Weissling 1991) When the settlement was relocated to its present location in 1975 a number of new pre-fabricated houses, serviced by the utilidor system, were erected for Inuit occupation.
Anglicanism was thoroughly established in the Inuit in both Inukjuak and Pond Inlet for decades before the relocation (Kemp, et al, 1977). During the early years of the settlement, religious service was provided in a small shed constructed out of discarded base material. The space also served as a workshop and school house. An Anglican church was erected in the community in 1965, and a lay preacher from Pond Inlet conducted the services (Bissett, 1968).
“Baffin Neighbourhood News, Resolute Booming” (1973, 12 October). Inukshuk, page 12.
Bell, J. (1996, March 15). Exiles Denied Apology. Nunatsiaq News. Retrieved 16 September, 2008, from www.nuunatsiaq.com.
Bissett, D. (1968). Resolute, an area economic survey. Ottawa: Industrial Division, Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
David Damas (2002). Arctic Migrants/Arctic Villagers: the Transformation of Inuit Settlement in the Central Arctic. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
“First Eastern Arctic Mine a Near Reality” (1973, 12 October). Inuksuk, 7( 32), pages 12, 19.
Government of Canada (1994). The High Arctic relocation summary of supporting information. Vol. 2. Ottawa: Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1994.
Kemp, W.B.; Wenzel, G.W.; Jensen, N.; Val, E. (1977). The communities of Resolute and Kuvinaluk: a social and economic baseline study. Polar Gas socio-economic program. Montreal: McGill University, Office of Industrial Research.
Marcus, A.R. (1992). Out in the cold: the legacy of Canada's Inuit relocation experiment in the High Arctic. Copenhagen: IWGIA.
McPherson, R. (2003). New Owners of Their Own Land: Minerals and Inuit Land Claims. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.
Milton Freeman and Associates. Inuit land use and occupancy project, Volume three: Land use atlas. Ottawa: Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
Statistics Canada (2007). Resolute, Nunavut . 2006 Community Profiles, 2006 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 92-591-XWE. Ottawa. Released March 13, 2007. www.statscan.ca.
Tester, F.J. and Kulchyski, P.K. (1994). Tammarniit (mistakes) Inuit relocation in the Eastern Arctic. Vancouver: UBC Press.
“Transair Okayed to Fly into Resolute.” (1974, 12 June). Inukshuk, page 3.
Weissling, L.E. (1991). Inuit redistribution and development processes of change in the eastern Canadian Arctic 1922-1968. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Alberta.
Welch, H.E. (1993). Timothy Idlout (1916-1992). Arctic, 46(1).
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