Kangirjuap / Thelon River

Kivalliq Region


Designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System in 1990, the Thelon River is a boreal-Arctic oasis that supports a rich and unusually diverse northern concentration of wildlife. A 545 km stretch of this 940 km river was designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System for its natural, cultural and recreational values. It was important to the Caribou Inuit to have the river and their traditional life on it commemorated by all of Canada.

Cultural Heritage


The upper reaches of the Thelon River, upstream of the portion of the river now designated as a Heritage River, are part of the traditional territory of the Dene. Desyàa Tuè is the Dënesųłıné name that refers to a segment of the river which opens up and appears like a lake. This area and the surrounding lakes are used in the wintertime by Akaitcho Dene.

For many centuries, the lands surrounding the Thelon River have been seasonal hunting grounds for the Caribou Inuit people. A trip on the river is truly a voyage back in time. Perhaps the most dramatic glimpse of past and present Inuit culture is the inukshuk – a pile of rocks standing as markers on the landscape. Inukshuks mark almost every vital aspect of Inuit life, and are found on water routes, and caribou migratory paths, at river crossings, fishing spots, campsites, lookouts, and food caches. Inuit called the portion of the river from Shultz Lake to Baker Lake Kangirjuak, with different names given to the individual lakes west of Shultz Lake.

Archaeological sites, structures and artefacts are plentiful and protected under federal and territorial laws – they must be respected and left undisturbed. Much of the area’s prehistory can be learned from these sites. More modern camps and land use areas may be found along the lower reaches of the River as it nears Baker Lake and the community of the same name.

Natural Heritage


The section of the Thelon River designated to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System includes the river’s entire middle and lower reaches, consisting of the 545 km from Warden’s Grove on the western border of the Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary to the community of Baker Lake, Nunavut. The upper stretch of the river, and the majority of the designated Heritage River is protected within theThelon Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Thelon is the largest river in Canada flowing into Hudson Bay. The designated section of the river starts 110 km east of Great Slave Lake, in the Northwest Territories, near Whitefish Lake, and flows north and eastward across the barren lands into Baker Lake and Chesterfield Inlet, before entering the Hudson Bay. The river has impressive scenic features, such as extensive flats of pure white sand at the Thelon-Hanbury junction; 15 metre high sand embankments fringed by boulder beaches at Thelon Bluffs; and rapids that course through sandstone cliffs.

The pristine wilderness surrounding the Thelon provides abundant and diverse wildlife habitat. Its taiga and boreal forest support a unique variety of boreal and arctic species. The Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary protects the breeding grounds of the muskox, which are often seen along the river’s length, as well as part of the calving grounds of the Beverly caribou herd, thousands of which can be seen along the river during their migration. The caribou attract predators and sightings of wolves, wolverines and grizzlies are common.

Bird species found along the river include peregrine falcons, gyrfalcons, golden and bald eagles, as well as rough-legged hawks, and in the boreal forest of the upper Thelon, great grey owls and merlins. Tundra swans and four species of loons nest on lakes along the river.

Recreational Heritage


The Thelon offers a first-class wilderness canoeing experience, though the canoeing season is short, lasting only eight to ten weeks from late June to mid-August. Route options include the Hanbury-to-Thelon route, although the first stretch on the Hanbury River is extremely arduous, as the spectacular waterfalls at Dickson Canyon and Helen Falls require strenuous portages. An alternate journey beginning on the upper Thelon River is equally demanding, with numerous rapids and a challenging portage of several kilometres around the Thelon Canyon. The 10-12 day journey downriver from the Hanbury-Thelon confluence to Baker Lake is less difficult. It has some fast water stretches, but it is generally free of portages.

The Thelon is a prime location for fishing trophy lake trout, arctic char, grayling, whitefish, cisco, slimy and spoonhead sculpin, and lake chub. Due to its location within two Territorial jurisdictions, fishing licenses are required for both Northwest Territories and for Nunavut portions of the river.

Beaches along the shores of the ‘great lakes’ section of the Thelon make excellent campsites, as do the eskers overlooking the river and lakes. The eskers also offer exceptional, mosquito-free hiking, with 360 degree vistas over the tundra.


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Nunavut’s parks and special places offer unforgettable experiences; but travel to any remote area can involve risk. Visitors are urged to familiarize themselves with these risks before their trip, and to prepare themselves accordingly. The arctic environment is vulnerable to human disturbance and recovers very slowly. Minimize your impact on park environments, follow park regulations, and try to leave no trace.

Travel within Nunavut’s Territorial Parks offers some of the most breathtaking scenery and magnificent wildlife imaginable, but also involves the risks associate with travelling in any remote area. Travellers are urged to take responsibility for their own safety. Careful preparation and research to learn about local landscapes, weather, wildlife, and potential hazards is advised. Physical conditions within parks, in the water and on trails can change rapidly; weather conditions can shift; and encounters with wildlife are frequent.

The World Commission on Environment and Development defines “sustainable” travel as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The World Tourism Organization specifies that sustainable travel is the “management of all resources in such a way that economic, social, and aesthetic needs can be fulfilled while maintaining cultural integrity, essential ecological processes, biological diversity, and life support systems.”

Vital, timely information assistance for safe and sustainable travel in our parks is available through regulations and information posted in our parks; on Government of Nunavut websites and other resources in our park communities; from local guides, hunters and other community residents; and from a wide variety of other print and online resources. Visitors are urged to consult these sources in order to guarantee themselves a safe and memorable experience, and to protect Nunavut’s unique natural and cultural legacy.


The arctic environment is vulnerable to human disturbance and recovers very slowly. Minimize your impact on park environments. Visitors are required to follow park regulations and encouraged to leave no trace.

Enjoy the park and respect the land. Reduce your impact by following park rules:

  • Inuit rights to harvest, fish and camp in the park are protected by law. Do not interfere with Inuit traditional uses of the park.
    All-terrain vehicles damage the land. Drive only on designated trails and use the parking areas in the park.
  • Fishing licenses are required for non-Inuit. Purchase your license at the Wildlife Conservation Office, the Department of Environment or Fisheries and Oceans Canada, most sport fishing lodges, sporting goods, hardware and convenience stores, or at certain offices of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
  • Respect wildlife and the environment. Do not approach wildlife for any reason. Leave rocks, plants, and other natural objects as you find them.
    You are in bear country. Be prepared for bear encounters. Stay alert, travel in groups and with a guide. Keep your campsite and picnic area clean at all times. Report bear sightings to the local Wildlife Conservation Office and Nunavut Parks staff.
    Camp a reasonable distance away from day-use areas to allow other park visitors access to these facilities.
  • Respect other park users. Keep noise to a minimum.
  • Keep pets on leash and pick up all pet waste.
  • Dispose of garbage in bins or take it out with you.
  • Use the outhouses in the park, or in parks with no outhouses, bury human waste.
  • Archaeological sites are protected by law. Please don’t touch archeological sites or artefacts. Report archaeological finds to the Territorial Park office.

Nunavut is bear country. To ensure your visit is safe and enjoyable, stay alert to your surroundings, prepare for an encounter and report bear sightings or incidents to the local Wildlife Conservation Office and Nunavut Parks staff.

Bears can be encountered in Nunavut parks. Polar bears may be encountered in any location but are most common in coastal regions. Barren ground Grizzly bears may be encountered in mainland Nunavut. If you intend to travel in Nunavut parks you can reduce your risk of a bear encounter with a few precautions:

  • Educate yourself about the area you plan to hike in.
  • Hire a local guide with knowledge of how to handle a bear situation.
  • Pre-plan, rehearse and know what to do for different bear encounter scenarios.
  • Know where bears can be found at different times of the year. Avoid those areas or be especially cautious when traveling through them.
  • Be alert and aware of your surroundings. In open terrain, use binoculars to look ahead for bears. If you notice a bear at a distance, take action to avoid surprising it.
  • Travel in daylight and avoid areas of restricted visibility.
  • Watch for bear signs such as tracks, droppings, daybeds, dens or seal carcasses.
  • Never approach a fresh kill. A bear may be nearby.
  • Carry food in airtight or bear-proof containers and avoid carrying foods or articles with strong smells. Take all garbage to camp and dispose of it properly. A trail of litter may lead a bear to you or your camp.
  • Consider bear deterrents such as noisemakers or pepper spray.
  • Report bear sightings or incidents to the local Wildlife Conservation Office and Nunavut Parks staff.

Nunavut Parks published “Polar Bear Safety in Nunavut Territorial Parks”, in March 2007 and produced the video “Polar Bears: A Guide to Safety”, a 27-minute video produced in partnership with Parks Canada. The video contains important information on how people can reduce their chance of encountering a polar bear, and how to best respond if they do meet a bear.


Inuit rights to enjoy parks and engage in traditional activities are protected by Nunavut Agreement (NA) and the Umbrella Inuit Impact Benefits Agreement for Territorial Parks in the Nunavut Settlement Region (IIBA). The NA and IIBA protect the rights of Inuit to access territorial parks for harvesting. Park visitors are required to respect these rights, and to take appropriate steps to avoid interfering or disturbing Inuit traditional activities.

Inuit rights within a Territorial Park are protected by the Nunavut Agreement (NA) and the Umbrella Inuit Impact Benefits Agreement for Territorial Parks in the Nunavut Settlement Region (IIBA). The NA and IIBA protect the rights of Inuit to continued land use for harvesting, outpost camps, carving stone, access, and other purposes in territorial parks.

Inuit harvesting activities (hunting, fishing and gathering) are allowed in established territorial parks, and will continue to be allowed in areas where a new territorial park may be established in the future.

The NA and IIBA both require that Inuit and the GN jointly plan and manage the lands, waters, and resources within parks. Joint planning and management is the process by which government, Inuit and communities work together to make and implement decisions. The IIBA formalizes joint planning and management by setting out principles and objectives to ensure meaningful Inuit participation in park planning and management decision-making, at both the territorial and community levels. A Nunavut Joint Planning and Management Committee (NJPMC) advises on Nunavut-wide parks initiatives (IIBA Article 13.1.1 d), and Community Joint Planning and Management Committees (CJPMC), working at the community level, plan and manage parks in or near each affected community (IIBA Article 13.1.1 d).

The planning and management process followed by Nunavut Parks will ensure that Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) substantially informs the decision-making process, and that visitor uses of a park, and park programs or development, do not conflict with Inuit use and enjoyment of territorial parks.


All archaeological sites in Nunavut are protected under the Nunavut Archaeological and Paleontological Sites Regulations, which prohibit unauthorized disturbance. Do not move or remove stones, bones, or artifacts, and report new archaeological finds to the Government of Nunavut.

The protection of Nunavut’s archaeological and paleontological heritage is an important priority of the Government of Nunavut (GN), and a responsibility shared with the Government of Canada. Under the Nunavut Act, regulations for the protection, care and preservation of archaeological and paleontological sites are regulated under the authority of the GN Minister for Culture and Heritage (C&H); and study, access, documenting and investigating archaeological and/or paleontological sites and databases require research permits. The GN Department of C&H requires a Nunavut Archaeological Sites Database license to view previously recorded data; and Archaeology and Palaeontology Permits (Class 1 or Class 2) for research projects and inventory fieldwork.

Class 1 permits authorize only the documentation of an archaeological and/or paleontological site, including preparing a site map, recording the site’s geographic location, and the number, type and distribution of features present. Class 1 permits do not allow for the collection of artifacts.

Class 2 permit authorizes the documentation of an archaeological and/or paleontological site along with the excavation and removal of artifacts and/or specimens. These permits are only issued to professionally qualified archaeologists and/or palaeontologists.

Additional information can be found in the C&H department’s Guidelines for Applicants and Holders of Nunavut Territory Archaeology and Palaeontology Permits.

The Department of C&H also administers the Human Remains Policy to ensure that any archaeological investigation or analysis of human remains or associated grave goods will be conducted in a manner that is sensitive to Nunavummiut values, ethical and scientific principles, and which complies with all applicable laws, codes of conduct, and conventions.

If archaeological and/or paleontological sites or artefacts are found in a territorial park, the regulations are not to touch, do not move or remove stones, bones, or artifacts, and immediately report finds to the GN.

The process for all artifact discoveries is quite straightforward; finds have to be reported to the Territorial Archaeology Office, including as much details as possible, for example:

  • Name of the person(s) who found the artifacts
  • Date of the find
  • Location of the find (GPS coordinates) if available.
  • Photographs if available
  • Any other relevant information

The C&H Department will then address the issue and provide recommendations/action.The Inuit Heritage Trust has three general information booklets on archaeology in Nunavut that are available online (http://www.ihti.ca/eng/iht-proj-guide-booklets.html):

  • Booklet for Northern Communities;
  • Booklet for Northern Heritage Workers;
  • Booklet for Northern Students.

Parks offer a deep emotional connection to the land. They are places that say “katjaqnaaq” – I am content in this beautiful and special place, I have found peace, I am home.
To understand our parks, we must experience them. We must listen to the land.

Nunavut, “our land”, is defined by its people and places. It is an arctic territory that evokes images of vast space and endless skies, wide tundra plains, ice-capped mountains, lands and seas teeming with wildlife, and rich cultural traditions still practiced today.

“Katjaqnaaq”, as much a feeling as an expression, reveals a depth of emotion and connection to a place of incredible beauty and significance. Uttered as a sigh, it can mean “ah – I am happy here, I am part of something.” As a joyful exclamation, it can mean “oh, what a beautiful place!” However it is used, it evokes connectedness to one’s surroundings and a sense of peace and meaning.

The Parks & Special Places division of the Government of Nunavut is working with Nunavummiut to identify and protect these significant areas as territorial parks and special places, understanding that they mean many things to many people: they are places of escape, places for reflection, places of power, and places that celebrate our cultural and natural heritage.

In the North, the idea of a park or special place is different. It is linked more to utility and being on the land than beauty and aesthetics, which are appreciated in a different way. In Nunavut, special places are prime hunting or fishing spots, good camping sites, places where groups of people gathered in the past, or places of mystical significance.


Did you know?

The tree line follows the Thelon partway up into what would otherwise be sub-arctic tundra, creating an ‘oasis’ where wildlife from two ecosystems come together, resulting in the unusual diversity of wildlife the area is known for.

Safety Information

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River Specific Contact

Thelon River
Phone: 867.975.7700
Email: parks@gov.nu.ca
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