Northwest of Rankin Inlet, a large esker snakes across the land, forming a distinct ridge, crowned with sandy blowouts, low tundra, and cobbled ridgetops. To the south lies a chain of lakes, nesting places for loons and long-tailed ducks. Sandhill cranes nest at the edges of sedge wetlands, and prowl the wetlands and adjacent tundra, hunting voles, lemmings and the nestlings of tundra birds. Larger mammals such as arctic fox, arctic hare, caribou, or, rarely, grizzly or polar bears are sometimes seen.
Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park encompasses the esker, part of the chain of lakes, and extends across Iqalugaarjuk (also known as Meliadine River) to the height of land to the north of the river. A park trail extends out the esker to Siksik Lake and almost to Qamanayuk Lake, where a long peninsula extends into the lake. Walking trails also branch from the end of the maintained road, and an Elders’ Cabin and picnic area provides a great view along the esker and over the river and the lakes. Midway through the park, a road branches to the north and ends at the river and at Qamaviniqtalik – a beautiful Thule and modern Inuit site located at rapids on the river.
Geography of the Meliadine
The Meliadine Esker is a prominent landform in the Rankin Inlet area. It is a large sand and gravel ridge, which runs east-to-west through the park. It owes its origin to the great continental Laurentide Glaciation, an immense ice sheet that originated right here along the western side of Hudson Bay, and flowed out in all directions from here. When the ice was melting back, streams issuing from within the ice sheet carved huge tunnels in the ice, and deposited rocks, gravel, and sand in layers upon the bottom of the tunnel. When the ice sheet melted back entirely, these layers remain as ridges on the ground, winding and branching in true “river” form. The Meliadine Esker is one of these glacial landforms. Eskers are valuable parts of the ecosystem here, as they provide good migration routes for people and caribou, good spots for hunting, and good denning spots for the animals like wolves, foxes, ground squirrels and grizzlies that must dig dens to house their young.
North of the Meliadine esker, a medium-sized river, Iqalugaarjuk, which is also known as the Meliadine River, winds down through a series of lakes, and then meanders its way to the head of Rankin Inlet.Iqalugaarjuk means the “river of little fishes” and refers to the arctic grayling that frequent its shallow rapids.
The Ijirait and Inugarullitt
A rocky outcrop, known as Ijiraliq to the local people, provides a wall to the north. This is where the ijirait live. The ijirait, or “shadow people” are beings that seem to live a parallel existence with modern people. People believe that the ijirait can change their shapes, and appear and vanish at will, or take on the shapes of animals or partly animal and partly human. They can be shadow-like, at the edge of human perception, and barely seen, hence the name “shadow people”. Local residents don’t like to go there or camp there.
The guidebook for the park delves further into the stories about these people and another group of beings that are thought to live here – the “little people” or inugarulliit, who dress in caribou or hare skins, and who also live parallel to our modern existence. Local elders have told that for some mysterious reason, the little people can grow – if you look at their feet and move your gaze upwards, they will become large and frightening. But they are afraid of big peoples’ knees, so if you shake your pant legs at the knees, the inugarullik will be scared and run away. Legends of the little people are common across all of the Arctic.
A Walking Tour of Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga
At Qamaviniktalik (place of old sod houses), a circular walking trail descends a hillside and forms a circle which allows the hiker to get close to and observe structures constructed by the people when they lived along the river. A printed guide to Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park is keyed to numbers on the rocks and explains the structures in this area. The intent of this guidebook, which is published in English, Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, and French is to acquaint the visitor with the life of the very resourceful people who lived along this river before the coming of the whalers, traders and other “outsiders”. It is also intended to foster in the local people a sense of pride in the ingenuity and skills of their ancestors. Among the features included in the interpretive program for Qamaviniktalik are:
- House depressions in the hillside, evidence of sod houses (qarmat) which were dug into the hillside, lined with stones, and roofed with skins supported by wooden poles. People lived in sod houses in the fall and early winter, moving to snowhouses (igluit) on the sea ice by mid-winter;
- Circular stone tent rings, which supported caribou skin tents; and several small stone hearths used to support a soapstone pot for cooking;
- Remnants of a “kayak garage” (qajakuvik) – a long stone chamber where a kayak (qayaq) could be stored for the winter. There are also qayaq cradles, which were simply two rocks arranged in a “V” shape, so that a qayaq could be rested between the rocks, and allowed to dry after having been used on the river;
- Stone fox traps (pulat) in the centre of a large tent ring. This is a stone chamber with a roof and stone braces that guided a stone door. People would place a fish head or other tasty bait in the chamber, with a thong passing around an antler built into the back of the trap and tied to a support for the door;
- Hunting hides (talu), crescents of rocks piled up, facing the direction from which the caribou are likely to come. These taluit were used by Inuit hunters who would hunt caribou with bow and arrow made of muskox horn, caribou antler, or wood, and wooden arrows tipped with stone points. Children would run along the ridge near inuksuit, stone cairns along the side of a natural passage that caribou mistook for people, to guide the caribou into the area where the taluit were located. When a caribou came close enough, the hunter in the hide would rise up and take a shot, hopefully hitting and dropping the animal.
Here, you’ll also find a new sod house which was also built recently by local elders. This is a standing sod house, with walls made of blocks of turf stacked up to a height of about a meter and a half, and a roof made of about 30 caribou skins sewn into a covering, supported by rafters made of 2x4s. A sleeping platform within is covered with a mat of twigs, and there is a qulliq, the soapstone lamp that served for heat, light, and cooking in the snowhouses and sod houses of the past. Cultural performances are often held here at Qamaviniqtalik, with drum dancing, lighting of the qulliq, throat-singing, demonstrations of Inuit games, and elders telling the stories of the past.
Park Amenities and Activities
An Elders’ Cabin was built in the park so that elders from the community would have a place to gather out on the land, yet would be protected from the fierce winds that sweep across the Hudson Bay lowlands here. It is octagonal, with windows offering a 360 degree view across the esker and adjacent valleys. Tent platforms on a shoulder of the ridge are available so that campers can pitch their tents on a stable surface, sheltered from the prevailing winds. There is an outhouse, metal barbeque stands, picnic tables and bear-proof waste cans (however it is preferable that visitors take all garbage back to town with them).
Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga is a favorite berry-picking spot where in a typical fall afternoon; you can join families and friends gathering cranberries, crowberries, and bearberries, along with a few blueberries that never made it into our containers.
A drive to the park will take about 3 to 4 hours, depending on how much you want to stop and observe, or hike. The main road winds through rocky outcrops crowned with many inuksuit. This rocky area is for some reason called “Apache Pass”, and provides a good view of Rankin Inlet, and the community. The road descends to cross the Char River, a good fishing spot in springtime, and then parallels the west end of the esker.
It is possible to visit this park during the winter or springtime, but it is likely not accessible by road due to snow levels, and the structures at Qamaviniqtalik are not visible as they are under deep snow. Local operators may offer snowmobile tours to the park, and one offers Bombardier rides that offers an exciting ride over the sea ice or the land for up to 6 passengers.
People in town will know when the road is open, and it is rewarding to visit in early summer as the purple mountain saxifrage is blooming and many waterfowl are passing through. Each summer week brings a new scene with wildflowers blooming in profusion. Ground squirrels (siksik) are common, and waterfowl (loons, long-tailed ducks), tundra swans, and sandhill cranes can be seen in the wetlands. Shorebirds run along the river bars or gravel tops of the esker, and tundra nesting birds like snow buntings, Lapland longspurs, and redpolls are common. Rough-legged hawks and gyrfalcons nest in or near the park and can be seen on a regular basis. The Rankin Inlet area also boasts one of the healthiest peregrine falcon populations in the world, some 150 pairs nest along the island cliffs in the Inlet and in the park. Late on a summer evening, you may spot an arctic hare or arctic fox. In late summer there is a possibility of seeing caribou from the road, depending on the whims of these migratory animals.
No roads lead to Nunavut; our Territory is accessible only by air and sea.
First Air and Canadian North both fly regular daily schedules to Iqaluit from four main southern airline ‘hubs’: Ottawa, Montreal, and Edmonton (via Yellowknife and Rankin Inlet). Flights from Winnipeg (via Churchill and Rankin Inlet) are also available.
The hike to Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga is a long, though not uncomfortable, trek of about 10 kilometres; and another four kilometres to the elder’s facility. Fortunately, though, the road along the top of the esker is well-drained, allowing for easy walking. The breeze at this height keeps the hordes of mosquitoes at bay.
Crossing from the south to the north side of the Meliadine River is no easy feat, but there are locations where the river can be crossed with proper foot wear. Most visitors prefer to leave the north side of the river to the plants and wildlife, and to enjoy the view from the south.
Where To Stay
Nanuq Lodge will help arrange local trips to Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park, or Marble Island. Dogteam rides and tours are also sometimes available.
Siniktarvik Hotel & Restaurant
Email Tara’s B&B
Alt Tel: 867-645-3214
Aqiggiaq Hunters and Trappers Organization
Aqiggiaq Hunters and Trappers Organization can provide local information about the land, country foods, and help arrange for local outfitting
Come Along Tours & Outfitting
Email Tumi Tours
Arts & Crafts
The Matchbox Gallery was created as a cross-cultural arts workshop. In addition to being a display and production centre, it also provides training for community artists and residents. You can also purchase Inuit ceramics, Inuit art, paintings and Rankin Inlet stencil prints.
Email Matchbox Gallery
If you’re planning a trip to Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park, start by contacting Nunavut Tourism at the Kivalliq Regional Visitor Centre currently housed in the Rankin Inlet Airport and open throughout the year.
Kivalliq Regional Visitor Centre (Rankin Inlet Airport)
Nunavut Parks publishes a wide range of documents and reports on the work it does for each park – ranging from master plans, management plans, maps, brochures and other reports and publications. Many of these resources are available here.
Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park Editorial [.pdf – 932KB] – This four page editorial offers some information about the park.
Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Elders Cabin Rental Form – [.pdf – 147 KB] Fill out this form and submit to the parks email address if you have a function or event that you would like to host at the Elders Cabin.
Visitor information is available from the Visitor Information section of the website, and at relevant visitor and information centres throughout Nunavut. Contact Nunavut Parks for any additional information you may be looking for.