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Clyde River

Clyde River

Qikiqtani School Operations (QSO)



Like many locations on Baffin Island, the area around Clyde River has always been inhabited by Inuit camps that moved with the seasons to take advantage of the wildlife and resources that presented themselves. The Inuktitut name of Clyde River, Kangiqtugaapik, means “nice little inlet.” Even before the arrival of whalers in the 1800s, Inuit hunted the bowhead whales that migrated into the region. In recognition of the importance of whaling to the area, Isabella Bay, which is located outside of the community, was set aside as the first Canadian Bowhead Marine Sanctuary in 2010.

Literature reveals that the first European contact came from the Vikings in 1000 AD. The next recorded contact was in 1616, when Robert Bylot and William Baffin explored and mapped the area. John Ross gave the community its English name, Clyde River, in 1818. The abundance of whales attracted both American and Scottish whalers in 1820 and the hunt continued until the early 1900s, when the number of whales began to decline. In 1924, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established a trading post, to which Inuit travelled from their various camp locations. The United States Coast Guard built a weather station during the 1940s at Cape Christian near the current location of Clyde River, followed by the construction of a federal school in 1960. The physical location of the Clyde River community was moved across Patricia Bay to its current location between 1967 and 1970 to provide better opportunities for building infrastructure, such as water supply, a community airstrip, and room for community growth.

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.


Traditional Inuit culture is very important to the residents of Clyde River, and hunting remains an integral part of everyday life. Piqqusilirivik Inuit Cultural Learning Centre (, a project of Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage and now administered by Nunavut Arctic College, is located here. Its purpose is to teach Inuit language, culture, values and heritage. In addition, Clyde River is home to the Ilisaqsivik Society, a non-profit community-based organization that is dedicated to promoting community wellness. It offers a range of services, from mental health and wellness programs to supporting the community library and public Internet access. It also provides programs for youth and Elders and develops programs in areas such as land programs, to help teach and maintain traditional Inuit skills, and film and media workshops. Ilisaqsivik has established the Ittaq Cultural Heritage and Research Centre and there is an Anglican church in Clyde River.

Clyde River is an Inuktitut-speaking community. In the 2011 Census, 96% of the population claimed Inuktitut as their mother tongue and the first language of the home. Around 20% of Clyde River residents do not speak either English or French, which means that on occasion newcomers or visitors need to find someone who speaks English to translate for them. Only 16% of the population speaks English regularly at home as a second language and there is just a handful of French speakers. However, 80% of the population does say it speaks English. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both English and Inuktitut, 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 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.

Clyde River is a very young community. The 2011 Census counted 125 pre-school and 290 school age children, making 44% of the population under 18. There are even fewer Elders in Clyde than in most communities, with only 2% of the population over age 65. The few Elders who live in Clyde are active participants in many of the programs the Ilisaqsivik Society sponsors, passing on Inuit traditional values and knowledge to the younger generations and helping to document family histories.


Clyde River is a traditional community in which the local economy focuses largely on providing goods and services to local residents. Many people engage in subsistence hunting. While Clyde River 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 the abundant wildlife, spectacular scenery, and nearby bowhead whale sanctuary. Tourists who are interested in adventure come to Clyde River for mountain climbing, particularly in nearby Sam Ford Fiord, which is world-famous for its vertical climbing walls. Outfitters will also take visitors by boat to visit the floe edge in the spring or the bowhead sanctuary during ice-free months.

As in many Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Clyde River, 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.


Located on the shores of Davis Strait, marine wildlife is abundant in the area of the community, with polar bears, seals, and whales commonly hunted. Arctic char and small game are also found around the community, including ptarmigan, fox, hare, geese and ducks in season. Caribou can be found if one travels inland from the coast and sea birds inhabit many locations during the summer season, frequently breeding on cliffs.

The bowhead whale sanctuary designated in 2010 for the Isabella Bay Area is called Ninginganik National Wildlife Area (NWA). It is the largest NWA in Canada, measuring over 336 000 hectares. Located 120 km south of Clyde River, on the north-east coast of Baffin Island, the NWA includes the shoreline and islands of Isabella Bay and adjacent ocean out to 12 nautical miles from shore. The Inuktitut word ninginganiq translates roughly as “the place where fog sits.” It is the world’s first bowhead whale sanctuary and was established as part of a collaborative effort between the Inuit of the Nunavut Settlement Area and the Government of Canada under the authority of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

Further Reading: 
  • 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.
  • Eber, Dorothy Harley. When the whalers were up North. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989
  • 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.