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Arctic Bay

Arctic Bay

Qikiqtani School Operations (QSO)



Arctic Bay is on the northern tip of Baffin Island. Of the civilian communities in Nunavut, only Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord lie in a more northerly location. When the Nunavut Implementation Commission created its map of Nunavut for the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, it listed the Inuktitut name of Arctic Bay as ᑐᓄᓂᕈᓯᖅ, Tununirusiq. However, local people call it ᐃᒃᐱᐊᕐᔪᒃ, Ikpiarjuk, an Inuktitut word meaning “in a pocket,” because of the community’s location on a cove, nestled among the surrounding high hills. The area has been inhabited and used by Inuit since prehistoric times, but was a Scottish whaler who gave it its English name in 1872. Non-Inuit made sporadic visits over the years for various reasons, leaving historic artifacts behind: Captain Joseph Bernier arrived in 1911 on a Canadian sovereignty expedition, an early Hudson’s Bay trading post opened in 1926 for a year and then again in 1933, Rev. Turner established an Anglican mission at nearby Moffat Inlet in 1937, and a Canada-US weather station was built in 1941 that operated for 20 years and is still standing. The first school was built in 1959 and in the 1960s the Canadian government built medical facilities and public housing, and offered social assistance to Inuit who would move off the land and into the settlement. The last nomadic families in the region moved into the settlement in the early 1970s, and Arctic Bay gained official Hamlet status in 1976.

The Government of Nunavut (GN) Employee Orientation website offers an excellent collection of material on the general history of Nunavut, together with an overview of Inuit culture and history and an explanation of how Inuit cultural principles are being incorporated into government operations and services. We recommend exploring this site once it is available again after their restructuring, for now you can try the general GN site for information.


Arctic Bay is a community in which traditional Inuit activities are important to the local lifestyle. Community activities, such as the Pangaggujjiniq Nunavut Quest dog sled race, are also promoted to preserve traditional Inuit heritage. The Hamlet runs the Qimatuligvik Heritage Organization Gift and Visitor Centre and it is a place to learn about local history and culture. It has a diorama and a local arts and crafts gift shop.

There are two churches in Arctic Bay: All Saints Anglican Church and the Full Gospel Church, both of which hold Sunday morning services. There may be evening services as well. Services are held in Inuktitut, but there may be an English component or an interpreter for the service, as the churches make an effort to accommodate unilingual speakers of English.

The Inuktitut language is very strong in Arctic Bay: you will hear it spoken on the street and used regularly in daily life. According to the 2011 Census, 96% of the population claim Inuktitut as their mother tongue, and only 4% English. Three-quarters of Arctic Bay residents speak English, and a handful speaks English and French, but 23% speak only Inuktitut. Inuktitut is the language of the home for 92% of the population, and 3% of the English-speaking families also use Inuktitut regularly in the home. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both languages, but you should not expect general Inuktitut conversations to be translated automatically just because an English speaker is present. Inuktitut dialects vary widely across Nunavut, so if you have been speaking Inuktitut in another community, be prepared to learn dialectal differences and perhaps to have local residents correct your usage. The Inuit language (Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun), English and French are all official languages of Nunavut, so you have the right to request government services in the official language of your choice.

Arctic Bay has a very young population. According to the 2011 Census, the median age is 22.5 years. There were 145 pre-school and 190 school-age children in 2011, making 40% of the population under the age of 18. Only 5% of the population is over the age of 65, and the traditional knowledge of these Elders is highly valued.


Arctic Bay is a traditional community in which the local economy is focused largely on providing goods and services to local residents. Many people still engage in subsistence hunting. There are also many skilled artists and craftspeople, including sculptors working in marble and accomplished seamstresses who make traditional winter clothing. Although Arctic Bay does not have the decentralized government offices that form a significant part of the economy of many Nunavut communities, efforts are being made to increase the Hamlet’s tourism potential, given its abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery.

As in most Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Arctic Bay, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Northern Store offers “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store, cash cheques, etc. There is Interac at the Northern Store, with a limited cash supply. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly since postal service can often be delayed when bad weather disrupts transportation.


Marine mammals that can be seen near Arctic Bay include bowhead whales, narwhals, seals and, occasionally, polar bears. Land mammals include Arctic hares, Arctic foxes, lemmings and marmots. Dozens of species of migratory high Arctic seabirds, such as thick-billed murres, snow geese, kittiwakes, ivory gulls and Ross’s gulls, have breeding grounds in the vicinity that are very active in the summer. One local birder has posted a personal blog of sightings.

Further Reading: 
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, eds. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
  • Hinds, Margery. High Arctic Venture. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1968.
  • Issenman, Betty Kobayashi. Sinews of Survival: the living legacy of Inuit clothing. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997.
  • MacDonald, John. The Arctic sky: Inuit astronomy, star lore and legend. Iqaluit & Toronto: Nunavut Research Institute and Royal Ontario Museum, 1998.
  • McGhee, Robert. The last imaginary place: a human history of the Arctic world. Toronto: Key Porter Books, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2004.
  • Morrison, David and Georges-Hébert Germain. Inuit: glimpses of an Arctic past. Hull: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1995.
  • Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. The Inuit way: a guide to Inuit culture, rev. ed. Ottawa: Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006. (also available electronically on the GN Orientation website)
  • Rholem, Karim: Uvattinnit: the people of the far north. Montreal: Stanké International, 2001.
  • Rowley, Graham W.: Cold comfort: my love affair with the Arctic. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1996.