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Exploring the Past in Nunavut

Map of Archaeology and History Sites and Museums in Nunavut

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Archaeology and History Sites in Nunavut

Arvia’juaq and Qikiqtaarjuk

Both located close to the hamlet of Arviat, Arvia’juaq and Qikiqtaarjuk are both areas bearing great importance for the cultural heritage of local indigenous communities. Arvia’juaq was a longstanding summer habitation site of the Paallirmiut Inuit people. Qikiqtaarjuk contains archaeological evidence of habitation and includes an area associated with the legend of Kiviuq. Since 1995 the sites have been classified as National Historic Sites of Canada.

Blacklead Island Whaling Station

An islet off Nunavut’s Baffin Island, Blacklead Island has been used as a base for whaling over many centuries. Once used only by Inuit whalers, the island later saw European involvement in the industry with the formation of a whaling station. As well as drawing in greater numbers of Inuit hunters, the station was visited by British and American whaling ships. In 1985, the government designated it as a National Historic Site of Canada.

Bloody Falls

Located several miles outside Kugluktuk, Bloody Falls Territorial Park marks the probable location of the Bloody Falls massacre of 1711. In this incident, Chipewyan guides who were taking the English explorer Samuel Hearne through the area came upon a camp of Copper Inuit and proceeded to massacre them. There is much archaeological evidence in the park for longstanding human habitation. Since 1978 it has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

Fort Conger

Standing on the northern shore of Lady Franklin Bay, Fort Conger in Nunavut’s Qikiqtaaluk Region started life as an expeditionary camp established in 1881. It was used as the base for various Arctic expeditions during the late 19th and 20th centuries, including Adolphus Greely’s project, the first major scientific expedition to the northern polar region. Several of the structures at the site are classified as Federal Heritage Buildings.

Igloolik Island Archaeological Sites

Scattered across this small island, the Igloolik Island Archaeological Sites consists of nine locations where archaeologists have revealed evidence for prehistoric activity. This dates from as far back as 2000 BCE, with archaeologists linking these discoveries to both the Pre-Dorset and Dorset cultures. More recently, Edward Parry used the island as a wintering site in 1821 and the Fifth Thule Expedition based itself here between 1921 and 1924.

Inuksuk Point

On the Foxe Peninsula in Baffin Island stands Inuksuk Point, an area so-called because it is home to over a hundred inuksuk – the free-standing rock piles created by indigenous peoples of the far north. The effect of these monuments scattered across the landscape is beautiful and ideal for photographers. Such structures may have been designed for navigation although now have wider cultural resonance. Since 1969, the site has been a National Historic Site of Canada.

Kekerten Island Whaling Station

The Kekerten Island Whaling Station marks another important point in Nunavut’s whaling history. Since the early 19th century, Scottish whalers had been fishing in the nearby Cumberland Sound although in the 1850s winter stations were established on the island to supply the growing number of American whalers. Once accessed by boat from Pangnirtung, an interpretive trail leads visitors around the shells of abandoned buildings from the island’s whaling heyday.

Kodlunarn Island

Kodlunarn Island in Frobisher Bay contains the archaeological remains of Martin Frobisher’s 16th century gold mining expedition. An Englishman, Frobisher began mining for gold in the area whilst searching for the northwest passage. Among the visible remains are parts of a stone house and earthworks; the area underwent archaeological excavation during the 1970s and 1980s. The government designated Kodlunarn Island as one of the National Historic Sites of Canada in 1964.

Port Refuge

Designated a National Historic Site of Canada since 1978, Port Refuge in Devon Island is home to several important archaeological sites testifying to the prehistory of this area. Near the entrance to the bay archaeologists recovered evidence of a Thule winter village which showed evidence of contact with Norse colonies on Greenland; elsewhere they found Pre-Dorset dwellings. A range of cairns and other markers around the landscape testify to more recent human activity.

St. Jude’s Cathedral

Informally known as the “Igloo Cathedral,” St. Jude’s Cathedral in Iqaluit is the seat of the seat of the Anglican Diocese of the Arctic. Built in 1972, it incorporates many aspects of Inuit craftsmanship throughout its interior. In 2005 the cathedral was heavily damaged in a fire, requiring it to be rebuilt over the following years. The cathedral remains an active place of Christian worship, hosting services in both English and Inuktitut.

Museums in Nunavut

Inuit Heritage Centre

The Inuit Heritage Centre in Baker Lake showcases the culture and heritage of nine Inuit groups who once lived in this area of Nunavut. Its collection includes a range of artefacts created using traditional methods, which should be of interest to anyone fascinated by the folkways and lifestyles of Arctic peoples. The centre also includes a room used in various cultural activities, including the recording of oral histories.

Kugluktuk Visitor Heritage Centre

The Kugluktuk Visitor Heritage Centre can be found in a hamlet at the mouth of the Coppermine River. The centre takes the shape of a copper ulu, a form of traditional knife: the area of the blade houses a museum while in the rooms forming the handle can be found an art gallery and two conference rooms. The centre shop allows visitors the chance to buy artworks produced by local indigenous craftsfolk.

Nattilik Heritage Centre

The Nattilik Heritage Centre in Gjoa Haven is a small museum showcasing the culture and heritage of communities living in the far north of Nunavut. Its collection incorporates a range of historic artefacts including a soapstone oil lamp and a bell recovered from the wreck of HMS Erebus, which was abandoned amid John Franklin’s lost expedition in 1848. The centre also hosts events showcasing and celebrating indigenous culture, such as throat singing.

Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum

The Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit, the provincial capital, occupies a former Hudson’s Bay Company storage building. The small museum focuses attention on the culture and heritage of the city and of the province more broadly. Among its collection is a wide range of art produced by Inuit communities. Entry is free. The gift shop provides visitors with an opportunity to obtain the work of local artists.