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Arviat

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Arviat

Region: 
Kivalliq School Operations (KSO)

Community

About
History: 

Arviat is now the second largest community in Nunavut by population, and the southernmost mainland community. Formerly known as Eskimo Point, it is located on the west coast of Hudson Bay, and has some ties with Churchill, Manitoba, which can be reached by boat in the summer and by snowmobile in the winter.

The community’s Inuktitut name means “place of the bowhead whales.” Inuit have lived in the area since the period of Thule occupation. They have travelled extensively and interacted with other Inuit, Cree and Dene from further down the coast. Like other locations on the west Hudson Bay coast, Arviat was the site of a productive whaling industry. Parks Canada recognized its historical significance by announcing a National Historic Site at Arvia’juaq and Qikiqtaarjuk in 1995.

Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) ships called at Arviat for many years before establishing a permanent trading post in 1921. Catholic and Anglican missions followed in 1924 and 1926. Over time, Inuit families settled permanently in the community to take advantage of various services provided by the missions. An RCMP post was established in 1937, followed by a federal school in 1959. The latter part of the 1940s and early 1950s was a difficult time for Inuit in the area as wildlife patterns changed, affecting both income from trapping and the provision of food to support families. In addition, the community experienced both tuberculosis and diphtheria epidemics. During this period, the federal government began to move Inuit into Arviat from other areas in an effort to address these situations. In 1989, the hamlet officially changed its name from Eskimo Point to Arviat.

The Nanisiniq Arviat History Project is a multimedia website project involving youth and Elders, which documents the history and culture of Arviat. 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.

Culture: 

Inuit culture and language are strong in Arviat. Arviat Tourism runs a number of cultural programs that can be made available to visitors and newcomers, including storytelling by Elders, performances of traditional Inuit throat singing, and exhibitions of historic photograph collections. Margaret Aniksak Visitors’ Centre has local history and culture displays. The Nanisiniq Arviat History Project also contains substantial material on local culture, including a number of video interviews with Elders. The traditional cultural landscape of the area is preserved at the nearby Arvia’juaq and Qikiqtaarjuk National Historic Site.

Religion plays an important part in community life for many of its residents. There are a number of churches in Arviat of different Christian denominations. Please see the contact list for the names of those who have telephones.

Inuktitut is the language heard most commonly in Arviat. It is the mother tongue of most people, about 94% according to the 2011 Census, and 20% of people in Arviat described themselves as unilingual Inuktitut speakers. Most elementary and preschool children speak in Inuktitut. English is spoken by 80% of the population, with a few people who also speak French. 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. As well, Inuktitut dialects vary widely across Nunavut, so if you have been speaking Inuktitut in another community, be prepared to learn dialectal differences and perhaps be corrected in your usage by local residents. 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.

Arviat is a very young community with a high birth rate and an increasing number of school children. The 2011 Census counted around 320 preschool and 700 school age children, making 44% of the hamlet under 18. The median age of the community is 20. Only 3% of the population is over 65.

Economy: 

Arviat is one of the communities benefiting from the economic stimulus of decentralized Government of Nunavut offices. It is the location of the head office for Nunavut Arctic College, home ownership programs for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, and Adult Learning and Curriculum Development for the Department of Education. In addition to government employment and the local service wage economy, many residents engage in traditional hunting and fishing to provide for their families. In addition, talented local seamstresses offer their work for sale, producing beautiful and practical custom-made outerwear in both traditional and modern materials. Local artists include talented soapstone and antler carvers. Tourism offers seasonal employment for guides and outfitters, and for cultural performers.

As in many Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Arviat, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Northern, Eskimo Point Lumber Supply (EPLS), and Co-op stores offer “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store, cash cheques, etc. ATMs are available at the Northern, EPLS and Co-op stores, with limited cash supply. Interac and credit card services are available at most retail stores. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly since bad weather and transportation disruptions can often delay the postal service.

Wildlife: 

There is no shortage of wildlife around Arviat. Thanks to its location on Hudson Bay, it is on the migratory route for polar bears, which have been known to wander through town in certain seasons — the source of many interesting stories, as you will discover when you start talking to Arviammiut (the people of Arviat). Snow geese, ptarmigan, owls, loons, ducks, and swans are among the many birds that congregate in the area in nesting season; the annual return of geese signals an exciting period of hunting and egg collecting for local residents. The McConnell River Migratory Bird Sanctuary, about 27 km south of Arviat, protects wetlands of international importance for 250,000 migratory birds, chiefly snow geese. Enthusiastic birders can also spot many shore birds, such as Arctic terns, sandpipers, plovers and phalaropes, as well as the ravens and snow buntings that are common across the Arctic. Ring, harbour and harp seals, as well as beluga whales, can all be found in the ocean. There are also caribou in the area, although their migration patterns may vary. Arctic char is a staple of the local diet.

Insect life is abundant in the summer months, particularly mosquitoes and black flies; effective bug repellent and insect-proof clothing is a good idea.

Further Reading: 
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, editors. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
  • Copland, A. Dudley: Coplalook: Chief Trader, Hudson’s Bay Company, 1923-39. Winnipeg: Watson & Dwyer, 1989.
  • Dorais, Louis-Jacques: The language of the Inuit: syntax, semantics and society in the Arctic. Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.
  • Eber, Dorothy Harley: When the whalers were up North. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989.
  • Fossett, Renee: In order to live untroubled: Inuit of the Central Arctic, 1550-1940 Winnipeg, Man.: University of Manitoba Press, 2001.
  • Issenman, Betty Kobayashi. Sinews of Survival: the living legacy of Inuit clothing. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997.
  • Kalluak, Mark. Pelts to Stone: A History of Arts & Crafts Production in Arviat. [Ottawa]: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 1993.
  • MacDonald, John. The Arctic sky: Inuit astronomy, star lore and legend. Iqaluit, Nunavut & Toronto: Nunavut Research Institute and Royal Ontario Museum, 1998.
  • Marsh, Donald: Echoes from a Frozen Land. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1987.
  • Marsh, Winnifred Petchey: People of the Willow: the Padlimiut Tribe of the Caribou Eskimo Portrayed in Watercolours. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1976.
  • 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, Qué.: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1995.
  • Mowat, Farley: People of the Deer; The Desperate People (many different editions available).
  • Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. The Inuit way: a guide to Inuit culture, rev. ed. Ottawa.: Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006. http://www.uqar.ca/files/boreas/inuitway_e.pdf
  • Rholem, Karim: Uvattinnit: the people of the far north. Montréal: Stanké International, 2001.