To the west of Iqaluit near Peterhead Inlet lies a one-quarter square kilometre island that holds a link to the ancient culture of the Thule people. The island is called “the place that shines” and is now Qaummaarviit Territorial Historic Park. The park is rich in archeological artifacts dating back to the Thule culture; which demonstrate the inventiveness and adaptability of this remarkable people. The rocky landscape of the island is broken up by patches of lush vegetation and the 11 semi-buried sod houses that give the visitor an idea of the living conditions on the island at the time of the Thule people.
The Qaummaarviit Park guidebook, available at the Unikkaarvik Visitor Centre, offers descriptions of the sites along the path and provides a brief history of the park. Interpretive signs along the path provide additional information. The park makes for a great day trip when visiting Iqaluit.
Settlement of Qaummaarviit
Archaeologists believe that the Thule settled at Qaummaarviit at least 250 years before Christopher Columbus landed in America. The great distance from this prehistoric settlement from the floe edge initially puzzled experts. However, the striking diversity of the land and sea mammal bones recovered from several winter houses provided the answer. Even as late as 1860, the Arctic explorer Charles Francis Hall, was impressed with the amount and variety of game his Inuit guides took while camped here. Unlike the floe edge, where survival depended on sea mammal hunting, the mixture of land and sea animals at the head of the bay offered a measure of security when one or another resource failed, including tuktuk (caribou) which was their main source of winter clothing.
Like their Alaskan ancestors, the first Inuit to settle at Qaummaarviit were expert whale hunters. Yet, with the onset of the ‘Little Ice Age’ (AD 1400), open water habitat for whales diminished and whaling declined in importance. Many Thule across the Arctic responded to this environmental shift by moving into large snowhouse villages on the sea ice. At Qaummaarviit, diminishing amounts of baleen (long, flexible plates from the bowhead’s mouth) in winter houses and change sin harpoon head styles seem to mark this turn in lifestyle.
Living at Qaummaarviit
Probably no more than 25 people lived at Qaummaarviit at any one time in the past. Even so, the island must have been a favorite winter camp; it was occupied on at least three, and presumably more, occasions. There is even evidence of Inuit rebuilding house ruins of former occupants. The shallow depth of the household garbage dumps, however, suggests that most occupations were relatively brief, probably no more than several winters. Numerous stone rings, the remains of skin tents, indicate that the island also hosted small, nomadic groups of Inuit in the summer.
Over 3,000 tools and 20,000 bones dug from the tundra by archaeologists stir our imagination of what life may have been like at Qaummaarviit. Far from the bleak existence many people might envisage, Qaummaarviit’s inhabitants thrived. Sled runners and a variety of dog harness equipment suggest that Qaummaarviit’s hunters were capable of travelling great distances over se ice in search of game. Though evidence of skin boats is less abundant, thousands of sea mammal bones tell us that qayaks and umiaks were used repeatedly to hunt a variety of seals and whales. Artifacts used closer to home, such as hide scrapers, awls, needles, ulus, and soapstone lamps remind us of the vital roles woman played, while toy weapons, tools and dolls recall the central importance of children in Inuit culture.
Summer found Qaummarviit’s inhabitants at rivers fishing for char, and along coasts hunting seals, walrus and toothed whales. As the weather worsened, they began to stockpile food and provisions for freeze up in the fall – a time when ocean travel and sea mammal hunting were impossible.
The ancient Inuit who settled at Qaummaarviit were not alone. Two other nearby settlements have also been found. One of these, Crystal II just outside of Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park, was the first site dug in the Arctic where Thule Inuit remains were found alongside those of the Tunnit, an earlier, distantly related culture.
Over the centuries, Frobisher Bay’s Inuit alternated between the mouth and head of the bay as local ice conditions and game movements changed. By the end of the 18th century, as the Little Ice Age was easing, Qaummaarviit was abandoned once again for the floe edge.
Canada 150 Improvements
As part of the Government of Canada’s celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, the Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program was created. Through investments in community infrastructure, the Government of Canada will invest in projects that seek to renovate, expand and improve existing community infrastructure, with a focus on recreational facilities, projects that advance a clean growth economy, and projects with a positive impact on Indigenous communities. We are pleased to announce that Nunavut Parks was awarded funding as part of this Program.
The funding was used to update and improve interpretive signage at Sylvia Grinnell and Qaummaarviit Territorial Parks, near Iqaluit. The interpretive sign program is very important to Nunavut Parks – our signs are used to inform and guide visitors through our parks. We tell the history and Inuit culture of the area through pictures, maps, and stories from our Elders.
Be sure to visit Qaummaarviit Territorial Park to see our informative new signs!
No roads lead to Nunavut; our Territory is accessible only by air and sea.
Canadian North flys a regular daily schedule 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.
Qaummaarviit is accessible by ski, dogsled or snowmobile in the winter months, and by boat during the open-water season. However, since the park is approximately 12 kilometres from Iqaluit, it is recommended that visitors take advantage of local outfitting services, many of which provide on-site interpretation and a snack. Arrangements can be made through the Unikkaarvik Visitors Centre.
Travel by snowmobile and qamutik is also available through outfitters; and is much quicker thereby significantly decreasing the length of your trip. Skiing to the park takes a good day, depending on experience and ability. Remember that Frobisher Bay is subject to tides of up to 15 metres, which can affect travel in any season. Earlier in the season this simply means there is a greater expanse of rough ice to climb to get to the island. Later in the season, tides affect both the amount of surface water on the ice and the amount and location of open water near the shore.
Breakup in the north end of Frobisher Bay usually takes place around mid-July; but ice is still floating in the bay in the early open-water season. Strong onshore winds can trap even the most experienced boaters. Most local outfitters use 22- or 24-foot freighter canoes or Lake Winnipeg boats designed to transport heavy loads over long distances and are powered by outboard motors. Boat travel to Qaummaarviit takes from 30 to 45 minutes, depending on tidal conditions and wind. Camping is not permitted.
Where To Stay
There are several options in Iqaluit including hotels and bed and breakfasts.
Discovery Lodge Hotel
Aqsarniit Hotel & Conference Centre
OPENING FALL 2020
Accommodations by the Sea Bed and Breakfast
Alt Tel: 867-979-6074
Apex Bed and Breakfast
Beaches Bed and Breakfast
Outfitted trips from Iqaluit offer boat or dogsled trips to Qaummaarviit Territorial Park from Iqaluit.
Tel: 416-322-7066 / 888-737-6818
Arts & Crafts
The Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum features Inuit artifacts and art, interpretive displays and hosts travelling exhibits and other local and territorial events. The Museum also houses a retail outlet for Inuit art and related items.
Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum
Email Nunatta Sunakkutaangit
The Unikaarvik Visitor Centre in Iqaluit is a great place to start your trip to Qaummaarviit. The Centre provides interpretation for the Territory, local attractions including Katannilik, Sylvia Grinnell and Qaummaarviit Territorial Parks.
Unikaarvik Visitor Centre
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.
Qaummaarviit Territorial Park Editorial – [.pdf – 898KB] This four page editorial offers information on Qaummaarviit Territorial Park.
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.