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Coral Harbour

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Coral Harbour

Region: 
Kivalliq School Operations (KSO)

Community

About
History: 

Coral Harbour takes its official name from the fossils in the surrounding area, and archaeological records show that Inuit have inhabited Southampton Island since the times of Dorset Culture (500 BC to 1500 AD). They call the location Salliq, meaning “a large flat island in front of the mainland.” The first recorded European contact in the area was British explorer Thomas Button in 1613. He was looking for both the Northwest Passage and evidence of what happened to Henry Hudson, who had entered the bay that holds his name in 1611. Button named the island after the Earl of Southampton of the day. The waters around Southampton Island formed a major bowhead whaling area. Whaling started in the late 1700s and carried on into the early 1900s, when the number of whales dropped and technology moved to other sources of oil. Known as Sallirmiut, possibly the last descendants of the Thule people, the resident Inuit population of the island was wiped out in 1902-03 when they were infected with what is believed to be typhoid, brought to the island by a Scottish whaler. Remains of the encampment can be found at Native Point.

In about 1912-1913, Inuit from the area of Repulse Bay and Chesterfield Inlet, on the west coast of Hudson Bay, migrated to the island. The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established a post at Coral Harbour in 1924 after being relocated from nearby Coats Island. It attracted Inuit, not only from the Southampton area, but also from locations much farther away. Both Anglican and Catholic missions began operating in the vicinity after the HBC arrived. During the Second World War, the U.S. military built an airstrip and associated facilities, which became part of the northern route to Europe (Crimson Route) for moving aircraft and supplies. The existence of the base provided a platform for the development of the DEW Line (Distant Early Warning) bases in the Cold War period immediately following World War II. The Canadian federal government became more active in the area with the construction of a school in 1950, a nursing station in 1963, and community housing. Coral Harbour was incorporated as a Hamlet in 1972.

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: 

Coral Harbour is a traditional community in which hunting and fishing are a prevalent part of everyday life. As a reflection of their vibrant culture, many local women make home-crafted parkas, hand-sewn fur mitts and traditional sealskin to provide warm clothing for their families. Churches also form an important part of the social fabric. Coral Harbour has churches of three Christian denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Glad Tidings. Please see the contact list for phone numbers.

The language used in Coral Harbour is predominantly Inuktitut. According to the 2011 Census, 92% of residents call Inuktitut their mother tongue, and 73% say it is the language used most often at home. However, almost everyone also speaks English. About 60% use English as a second language in the home and only about 5% say they do not speak English or French. There are a few French speakers in Coral Harbour as well. You can expect public meetings to be conducted in English and Inuktitut, but many conversations will be carried on entirely in Inuktitut, and 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 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.

Coral Harbour’s population is young by Canadian standards, but in the middle range for Nunavut communities. In 2011 there were 125 pre-school and 215 school-age children, making 41% of the population under 18; 4% of the population is over 65, with a few people as old as 85.

Economy: 

As a mid-size, fairly traditional community, Coral Harbour’s economy is chiefly local, focusing largely on providing goods and services to community residents. Many people still engage in subsistence hunting and fishing. Local seamstresses sell custom-made traditional and modern clothing such as boots, mitts and coats of various types. Local arts and crafts include wall-hangings, traditional Inuit dolls, and carvings in soapstone, whalebone, walrus ivory and caribou antler. Although Coral Harbour does not have the decentralized government offices that form a significant part of the economy of some Nunavut communities, seasonal employment is important for those who participate in the commercial caribou harvest, the construction industry, and local tourism. Tours with local outfitters to observe birds and marine wildlife are popular, as are trips to nearby Fossil Creek Trail Territorial Park and other local historic sites.

As in many Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Coral Harbour, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Northern Store and the Co-op offer “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store, cash cheques for a fee, etc. There is an ATM at the Northern Store, with a 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 postal service can often be delayed when bad weather disrupts transportation.

Wildlife: 

Coral Harbour is an area rich in marine life, as evidenced by a long history of whaling and hunting sea mammals in the area. Coates Island, which is nearby, is a resting place for colonies of walruses. Polar bears also frequent the area. Two bird sanctuaries, the East Bay Migratory Bird Sanctuary and the Harry Gibbons Migratory Bird Sanctuary, attract bird watchers. Thousands of snow geese, as well as tundra swans, sandhill cranes and other species, migrate to the area in spring. Thick-billed murres, black guillemots and gulls also nest in the vicinity. The last caribou of the island’s indigenous population was shot in the 1950s, but a new herd was reintroduced in late 1960s. For a while caribou were so numerous that a commercial hunt was used to control numbers, but the herd has decreased in recent years, and the numbers harvested are carefully controlled.

Further Reading: 
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, eds. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montreal & Kingston: 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. 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
  • Fossett, Renee. In order to live untroubled: Inuit of the Central Arctic, 1550-1940. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2001.
  • 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. http://www.uqar.ca/files/boreas/inuitway_e.pdf
  • Rholem, Karim. Uvattinnit: the people of the far north. Montreal: Stanké International, 2001.