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Cambridge Bay

Cambridge Bay

Kitikmeot School Operations (KitSO)



The present day community of Cambridge Bay is located on the western coast of Victoria Island, in an area that was an important traditional hunting and fishing site for the nomadic Copper Inuit of the area. The traditional name for Cambridge Bay, Ikaluktutiak, means “fair fishing place.” The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) built a trading post east of the current location of the community in the early 1920s. The RCMP built its first post in Cambridge Bay in 1926 and the Anglican Church established a mission the following year. It was not until the late 1940s that the site actually became a permanent community. In 1947, a long-range navigational beacon was built in Cambridge Bay, which resulted in the construction of a few small houses. In the early 1950s, Cambridge Bay was chosen as the central coordinating site for the smaller DEW Line (Distant Early Warning) sites along the Arctic Coast, and the Hamlet moved to its present site. After the building of a federal day school, Inuit from around the region, who had lived their whole lives on the land, were told to relocate the community so that their children could go to school.

Cambridge Bay has continued to grow as a transportation hub for the Kitikmeot region, as a logistics centre for mineral exploration on the west coast of Nunavut, and as a major operational centre for some Government of Nunavut departments and Inuit heritage organizations. Hunting and fishing are still important activities in the area, which provide employment in hunting and processing Nunavut “country food” (wildlife hunted or fished for food) when wildlife stocks permit. Town sites of historical interest include the old DEW Line site and the resting spot of the remains of the Maud, the ship of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, which are being returned to Norway.

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.


Cambridge Bay is a fairly young community. According to the 2011 Census, the median age is 27.5 years. It revealed that there are 550 children under the age of 18, only 4% of the population is over the age of 65, and no one is older than 85. Elders are therefore regarded as a precious resource and an important link to traditional Inuit culture and language.

Kitikmeot Heritage Society (KHS) programs try to preserve traditional culture, with three Elders on its staff as language experts, and the KHS worked in partnership with the Kiilinik High School, May Hakongak Community Library and Iqaluktuuttiaq District Education Authority to fund and construct the May Hakongak Community Library and Cultural Centre after the community library burned down in 1998. Opened in 2002, the Centre is part of a combined museum, cultural centre, archives, art gallery, public library and school library. “This shared space allows students, younger children, their parents and grandparents to come together under one roof, exchanging ideas, skills, knowledge and values that reflect our traditional society and serve our contemporary needs.” (KHS, 2013) This space also enables the KHS to display important cultural artifacts and information for the benefit of the students in school, the community at large, and visitors to the region. You can visit the KHS website for more information.

The people of Cambridge Bay enjoy spending time “on the land” and a network of roads has built up on the outskirts of town that lead to cabins where many people base their outdoor activities. The roads run to Mount Pelly in one direction and to the ocean in the other.

There are three churches in Cambridge Bay: St. George’s Anglican Church, Our Lady of the Arctic Roman Catholic Church, and Glad Tidings Church.

The language you are most likely to hear daily in Cambridge Bay is English. Inuinnaqtun is the form of Inuit language used in Cambridge Bay, and in the 2011 Census 255 people declared it as their mother tongue. However, only around 90 people said that it was the language they used primarily at home (5% of the population); another 260 said they used it regularly at home. Inuinnaqtun is written in Roman orthography, rather than in the syllabics used in the Kivalliq and Qikiqtani regions. Inuinnaqtun is taught at school, and the Kitikmeot Heritage Society and the Nunavut Literacy Council are working to revitalize the use of Inuinnaqtun in daily life in the Kitikmeot regions through programs such as on-the-land camps with language immersion, traditional skills programs, and Inuinnaqtun publications. If you have been speaking Inuktitut in another community, be prepared to learn a different dialect. Although French is an official language in Nunavut, fewer than 10 people in Cambridge Bay said that they were Francophone in the 2011 Census. However, 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.


In addition to being a transportation hub for the Kitikmeot region, Cambridge Bay is the base for a number of decentralized Government of Nunavut offices, such as the Mental Health and Addictions Division of the Department of Health. It also hosts the offices of several Inuit and land claim-related organizations, such as the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, Nunavut Impact Review Board, Nunavut Planning Commission, and the Lands and Resources Division of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. It is a logistical centre for regional mining exploration and development, such as the Hope Bay Belt Gold Project. Cambridge Bay is also the home of Kitikmeot Foods, the only federally-inspected meat processing plant in Nunavut that offers muskox meat for sale, which is available when the muskox harvest permits. The plant also processes Arctic char for commercial sale. The community is anticipating further growth with the promised construction of a High Arctic Research Centre, to be completed in 2017.

There is a branch of the Royal Bank of Canada in Cambridge Bay. The Northern 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. Interac and credit card services are generally available at most retail outlets. However, people often also establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly since postal service can often be delayed when bad weather disrupts transportation.


Excellent fishing for trout and char is found in the area, hence the traditional name for Cambridge Bay, Ikaluktutiak, “fair fishing place.” Land mammals include muskox, caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, foxes and lemmings. A carefully regulated hunt for muskox takes place when the herd numbers permit.

Further Reading: 
  • Amundsen, Roald. The Amundsen photographs, edited and introduced by Roland Huntford. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987.
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, eds. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
  • Dorais, Louis-Jacques. The language of the Inuit: syntax, semantics and society in the Arctic. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.
  • 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.