Canada 150, Nunavut

Here are some photographs of Nunavut along with excerpts from  the chapter, Of Limits Unknown, about Canada’s youngest territory established in 1999:

While it comprises a third of the entire country and is roughly the size of Western Europe, its population is just over 30,000; that’s one person for every sixty square kilometres…This is a vast, majestic land; as an independent country, it would be the thirteenth largest in the world. Its people have lived here for over four thousand years. They are skillful, resourceful, affable, entertaining and proud of their culture and traditions. Yet, clearly, their homeland is changing rapidly.


…the highlight of our trip to Nunavut is to be a hike along the Akshayuk Pass, on Baffin Island, a lonely, 97-kilometre trough through the mountains between Cumberland Sound and Davis Strait traditionally used by the Inuit to move from one hunting ground to another. Today, Auyuittuq, “land that never melts,” is a park that covers 19,000 square kilometres of glacier-carved terrain…

Pangnirtung (is) the gateway hamlet through which we are to enter Auyuittuq National Park…an hour and a half up Pangnirtung Fijord, by outboard…After dinner we stroll around Pang, past the Hudson’s Bay Company’s old blubber station on the rocky shelf above the fjord.


A photogenic replica of a red and white whaling boat rests beside a restored company building, reminding visitors of the days when ninety-ton bowhead whales, now an endangered species, were killed with abandon in Cumberland Sound. Pang’s population of 1,325 is mostly Inuit, and they live in simple, box-shaped homes, most of them with snowmobiles pulled up beside them, attached to traditional wooden sleds, sleeping through the brief weeks of summer. The yards are littered with junk, especially anything made of wood, clearly a precious commodity here, where there are no trees, only hydro poles and criss-crossing electrical wires that fashion a surreal forest…

You can walk from one end of the hamlet to another in a little over half an hour. After that, in either direction, you are out on the tundra, alone with rocks, moss, sedge, and spreads of cotton grass, the little white tufts traditionally used to make wicks for the kulliq, the lamp that’s used to light igloos. Tramping around on foot is not, however, the preferred mode of transport in Pang.

…the tide is low when we finally set off in two outboards for the park. The wind is blowing hard, and it’s cold motoring up the inlet. The mountains are shrouded in fog, but on the black cliffs lining the fjord a torrent of bubbling white water suddenly tumbles out of the mist, twists as if on a downhill ski track, and plunges to the sea, a finishing line that turns from blue-black, to milk, to brown the closer we get to the park. At one point the clouds lift and we can see the front edge of a receding glacier in a mountain trough, but when we look up the river that twists beyond the head of the fjord we see no sign of the “glacier snout…about 200 feet high” that was recorded by an anthropologist in 1883…


(we) start looking for a place to land several hundred metres before we reach the park entrance. But the tide, which varies by as much as ten metres here, is whipping the water along the shore, and the ocean bottom is riddled with boulders that risk damaging the engine shafts and keels of the boats…There’s a clear majority in favour of heading back to Pang, and Joavee (our guide) seems relieved…Our hike in Auyuittuq National Park has been aborted before it began. Our plan to camp was already thwarted by the weather, but now we can’t even enter the park, because of the tide–and because of our neglect of the basic principle of living in Nunavut: the need for time, and for the patience to adjust to the rhythm of the Arctic…Joavee senses our frustration…”Okay, so tomorrow: I have a party I’m taking out to Cumberland Sound to see the icebergs. How is that for you?”

It’s sunny again at last, but the wind is still blowing strongly as we board our boat and motor out to Cumberland Sound…But then, when we reach the open sound, the wind surprises us by dropping completely, and before us is an enthralling view…a deep blue ocean without a ripple, heavily splattered with slabs of pure white ice. They are of every imaginable shape and size, like pieces of a very large, complicated puzzle laid out randomly on a gleaming sapphire board…Near a small iceberg that’s perhaps six metres high Joavee cuts his engines and we drift–alone, as far as we can see, in every direction, and in a silence broken only by the tinkle of ice against water.

Photo taken before the Sound was reached

We cruise to another iceberg not much higher than our outboard, but perhaps fifty metres in diameter. Joavee sidles up to it carefully and then throws his bow anchor onto the ice. He takes a pole and knocks some loose ice off the edge of the berg and then invites us to climb onto the floe…It’s a transcendental experience. We’re actually standing on an iceberg on a vast, empty, and silent sea. Looking around, there is no question that we are in the Arctic, and yet it’s warm and sunny with not a breath of wind, like a summer day in Ontario cottage country. We feel no motion, either; there’s nothing to remind us that we are, in fact, drifting slowly southward toward Hudson Strait and Labrador, on ice that has presumably broken away from the massive, melting shelf on Greenland. We’re not that far in time and distance from the nineteen men, women and children, including several Inuit, who floated down Davis Strait past Cumberland Sound in 1872, trapped on an ice floe for 196 days…Now we have had an experience as awesome as a hike to the Arctic Circle in Auyuittuq National Park would have been…at least we had an extra day left in Pang. Time is after all our ally, and the weather our friend…

Our first day in Iqaluit we walk farther east to the village of Apex, where the Hudson’s Bay Company established a post in 1949. When we get to the end of the road we climb a hill of spongy moss and strike out across the naked tundra along the Apex River. Snow buntings flutter low against the cliffs and sprays of purple dwarf fireweed and and yellow Arctic poppies light up the hard ground at our feet…


photo taken in Iqaluit, not along Apex River

The next day we hike the trails of Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, beyond the western end of Iqaluit…It was in 1576 that Martin Frobisher first sailed into the mouth of this bay, thinking he had found the Northwest Passage to the Orient. He reported his finding to Queen Elizabeth I, who claimed for England the area he described, and named it Meta Incognita, “of limits unknown.” What particularly fascinates me is that it was not until 1861, almost three hundred years later, that the American explorer, Charles Hall, sailed all the way up the inlet to the vicinity of Sylvia Grinnell Park, becoming the first to record that Frobisher was only a bay. How slowly the area changed before the Second World War, and how quickly ever since!

Where Nunavut is going is an important question this chapter addresses

The recipe for this chapter is for Arctic char, the way it is served at community feasts in Nunavut.

To purchase a copy of Roaming the Big Land: Flavours of Canada, please go to:, or contact the author for a personally autographed copy at:


About t. a. keenleyside

author of travel/food books and popular fiction
This entry was posted in Auyuittuq National Park, biography, Canada 150, Canadian travel, contemporary culture, food literature, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Pangnirtung, Parks Canada, recipes, travel books and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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