Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Local History

With my fixation for all things historical it was only a matter of time before I did up a post on the development of Arctic Bay. So grab some popcorn, if you like, and join me on a little historical tour. The community as we know it today only began to take on its modern form in the 1960's following the influx of more and more government. (Arctic Bay's Inuktitut name, Ikpiarjuk means "pocket", describing the shape of this almost land-locked bay to a "T".) The first inhabitants of course were the Inuit who lived off the bounty of seals and whales to be found in the area of Lancaster Sound-Admiralty Inlet. The earliest evidence of human habitation in the immediate area of town that I am aware of is out at Uluksan Point which separates Arctic Bay (the water) from Adams Sound. Uluksan Point contains the remnants of traditional Inuit houses known as qarmait (qarmaq - singular).

The first European to visit Adams Sound was Scottish whaling Captain William Adams in his ship the ARCTIC in 1872. He paid a return visit the following summer. The next time the area is mentioned was in 1911. Captain Bernier (sailing a ship also called the ARCTIC) visited the area to help establish Canadian sovereignty. (Norway maintained a claim on some of the islands in Canada's arctic regions until 1880 if I'm not mistaken). Bernier and his crew became the first Europeans to overwinter in the area. (As an aside I have heard that either Bernier or a crewmember left a plaque commemorating this event at the head of the bay in the vicinity of Holy Cross Point. I hope to be able to locate this plaque later on this summer if in fact it exists.) Because Arctic Bay made a good harbour, it wasn't long until the Hudson's Bay Company arrived on the scene and set up shop here, constructing its first trading post in 1926. The post was closed down after about a year but was re-established in 1936 where it maintains a presence to this day in the guise of the local Northern Store.

Reverend Jack Turner set up the area's first Anglican Chuch in Moffat Inlet, south of present-day Arctic Bay in the 1940's. The religion of a community often depended on which flavour of missionary, Anglican or Roman Catholic arrived first. Thanks to Turnor's efforts, the Anglicans established a presence which remains to this day, though there is also an Evangelical Church in town along with a very small Catholic congregation.

A weather station operated here from the 1940s until 1952. An influx of southern services in the form of health and education services led to Inuit families slowly moving into permanent housing here in the 1960's. The first school here was set up in 1959. The first teacher here was Magaret Hinds, who also taught in Resolute Bay after Inuit were relocated there in the 1950s from Northern Quebec and Pond Inlet. Behind our current school is a small white portable which is all that remains of the original school. (In a darker and more chilling chapter of local history, this is where teacher Maurice Cloughley abused a number of students.)

The last Inuit families had moved in off the land by about 1969 and in 1976, the community gained hamlet status. I must also mention quickly the establishment of Nanisivik which has also played a part in local history. Located about 30km away by road, Nanisivik (meaning "the place where things are found" in Inuktitut), was a mining community set up in 1977. Once the mine closed in 2002, the mine was decommissioned. There were hopes that some of the housing there could be salvaged and brought into town to help deal with the housing crunch here but hopes were dashed because of asbestos contamination. Nanisivik's Anglican Church was brought into town last summer over an ice road. It has now been added onto the existing Anglican Churrch here across the road from Inuujaq School. The airport servicing Arctic Bay is located out at Nanisivik and is still in use though a smaller runway about 5-6km from town is being upgraded and will open to serve Arctic Bay in 2010 if I recall correctly.

Plans are in the works for the construction of a new community hall and a health centre. As well, the federal government last year announced plans to develop the port facilities out at Nanisivik to provide support for our military in maintaining Canada's northern sovereignty. Hopefully, some of this investment assists the community rather than winding up in the coffers of southern corporations (as so often seems the case). At any rate, with the port upgrades and the likelihood of a new iron ore mine being developed out at Mary's River, I'm very intererested to see how all these coming changes will affect Arctic Bay. I feel I am living here at a very exciting time.

So there you have it in a nutshell. I could add that I arrived here from Qikiqtarjuaq in July 2005 but I just find all that other history stuff much more interesting.


Kennie said...

Darcy - great write up! I'm not a history buff, but I do think it's important to know some of the history of where I am now living - Thanks for taking the time to do this!

Clare said...

Hi Darcy, love this and there is so much more. BTW don't bother looking for Bernier's plaque. The plaque itself was on a Cross that Bernier and the crew put there. (hence the English name of the point, Holy Cross Point).

The cross was destroyed a number of years ago (I heard it was set on fire but I really don't know), and the last time I saw the plaque it was in the Natural Resources office, sitting on a window ledge. No idea what happened to it.

Way Way Up said...

Thanks Clare, I was hoping to talk a bit more about Cannon Turnor as I was told about a cabin down in Moffat Inlet connected to him but I wasn't sure if I knew quite enough about that chapter of history to speak intelligently on it. And thanks for the update on the Bernier plaque. You saved me a long ski for nothing. Though heaven knows I could use the exercise.

jennifer of nunablog said...

Great job, Darcy!

Very interesting.