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Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut (CSFN)
Qikiqtani School Operations (QSO)



Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, is located at the end of a large bay named after Sir Martin Frobisher, who thought he had found the fabled Northwest Passage in 1576. He originally named the bay “Frobisher’s Straites” (in the spelling of that day), and for many years the community was also known as Frobisher Bay. Inuit have lived in the area for thousands of years, moving in and out with the “wildlife seasons.” Iqaluit, or “a place of fish” in Inuktitut, refers to the seasonal fishing that took place on the Sylvia Grinnell River when Arctic char were running. Like many areas of Nunavut during the late 18th and 19th centuries, Frobisher Bay saw different whaling operations participating in the hunt, mainly from bases near the mouth of the bay where it joins Davis Strait. In 1861, as part of the search for John Franklin, Charles Francis Hall, with the assistance of his Inuit guides, travelled as far as what is now the site of Iqaluit. Initially, Kimmirut was the administrative centre for the south Baffin area, with representatives of the Anglican Church and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) travelling out to camps in the vicinity. In 1914, the HBC opened a trading post at Ward Inlet, located approximately 65 kilometres southeast of Iqaluit. This post was moved in 1950 to the predominantly Inuit community of Apex (now part of the City of Iqaluit). The RCMP established a presence in the area in 1920.

Although a number of Inuit camps were located around Frobisher Bay, the site of the current community reflects the U.S. Air Force’s decision to construct an air strip in 1942 as part of the northern route to Europe during the Second World War. The military base was active during this period and then found new life in the 1950s as a DEW Line (Distant Early Warning) site during the Cold War. Inuit began migrating to the community, using materials disposed of by the military to build shacks, or small, multi-use buildings on the shores of Koojesse Inlet. (The term “shack” was used to describe these structures and is still used today without the negative connotation often associated with the word). The U.S. Air Force was present until 1963. The first community council for Frobisher Bay was elected in 1964. Frobisher Bay was officially recognized as a settlement in 1970, a village (Hamlet) in 1974, and a town in 1980. In 1987 the community reverted to its original Inuktitut name of Iqaluit. As a result of the signing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement in 1993, which created the new territory of Nunavut in principle, a plebiscite to choose the capital of the new territory was held in 1995, and Iqaluit was selected. Nunavut came into being in 1999, and in 2001, Iqaluit officially became a capital city. Although traditional land activities are still very much a part of life in Iqaluit, the city functions as a major transportation and communications hub, and as the primary administrative centre for the territory of Nunavut. As a result, the population has grown rapidly, with many newcomers arriving from other areas of Nunavut, the rest of Canada and other countries, and the city has seen the development of infrastructure and services in line with its growing community.

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


With its mix of long-time local residents, both Inuit and qallunaat (non-Inuit), and newcomers from elsewhere in Nunavut, Canada, and the rest of the world, Iqaluit has a lively cultural and social life. It is more cosmopolitan and less “traditional” than many of the other Nunavut communities, but strong value is still placed on traditional Inuit culture, which is celebrated at Toonik Tyme (the annual spring festival), at territorial and national holiday celebrations, and community feasts and events, such as fashion shows featuring fur haute couture and Christmas square dances at the Anglican Parish Hall. The Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum has many excellent displays and frequently hosts annual exhibitions of print collections from art centres, such as Cape Dorset and Pangnirtung. For several years Iqaluit has hosted Alianait, a multicultural music and arts festival that showcases both local talent and circumpolar and other international artists. Iqaluit has bars, restaurants, private and service clubs, and its branch of the Royal Canadian Legion is one of the busiest in the country, frequently featuring live music. As the territorial capital and an exotic stop on many artists’ schedules, Iqalummiut (residents of Iqaluit) have had the chance to see many Canadian and international stars, ranging from the Barenaked Ladies and Blue Rodeo in their early days, to the White Stripes and the National Arts Centre Orchestra on recent northern tours.

Iqaluit also has a wide variety of religious and spiritual communities, in keeping with its diverse population. There are several Christian churches. The best-known is the iconic igloo-shaped St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral, which is the Anglican cathedral church for the eastern Arctic. Local Inuit built the original church in the early 1970s, on a site where the sod had been turned by Queen Elizabeth on a visit to what was then Frobisher Bay. Decorated with many unique works of art, such as a cross made of narwhal tusks, and duffle wall-hangings contributed by seamstresses from communities across the Arctic, the church was destroyed by arson in 2005. A larger and more modern version of the church was built with the assistance of a national fund-raising campaign, and was re-dedicated and opened for service in 2012. Many photographs of Iqaluit still feature the old church building. St. Simon’s Church in Apex is the original Anglican church of the area and is a classic example of the tiny churches built throughout the Arctic in the early days of the Anglican missions. The Anglican Parish Hall in Iqaluit is the centre of many of the Inuit community’s celebrations, such as Christmas games and dances. The Roman Catholic church of Our Lady of the Assumption celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of its parish in 2009. It has a well-used parish hall. Iqaluit also has a Pentecostal church and a congregation of Northern Lights Ministries.

In addition, Iqaluit is home to a Baha’ï community and its Baha’ï House, a small Muslim community (building of a mosque is currently in development), and a Soto Zen meditation group, as well as adherents to traditional Inuit shamanism.

Of all the communities in Nunavut, Iqaluit has the greatest language diversity. Its function as Nunavut’s capital means that people have moved there to work from all over Nunavut and Canada. You will hear English, Inuit languages and French spoken on the street, and find signage and documents in English, Inuktitut, and French, and often Inuinnaqtun as well. In the 2011 Census, 45% of the population declared its mother tongue to be English, 5% French, 46% Inuktitut, and 4% other non-Aboriginal languages, such as Tagalog, Hindi and German. English is the most commonly heard language, as it is the first language at home for about 68% of the population, and it is spoken by 98% of the population. Inuktitut is spoken as either a first or second language at home by 49% of the population. Iqaluit is also a multilingual city – 50% of those surveyed said that they regularly use more than one language in the home. Direct air connections between Iqaluit, Ottawa and Montréal contribute to Iqaluit being the centre of Nunavut’s Francophone population. It is the home of the Territory’s only French-language school, l’École des Trois Soleils, and it also has a French radio station. L’Association des francophones du Nunavut (AFN) owns the Francophone Centre based in Iqaluit, and organizes many events for its community that are also open to anyone who enjoys French Canadian culture. Most public meetings are multilingual affairs, conducted in English and Inuktitut, and often French as well. 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.

Iqaluit has the oldest population of any Nunavut community, even though it is still young by general Canadian standards. The 2011 Census counted 615 pre-school and 1310 school-age children, making 29% of the population under 18, substantially lower than the 40-45% of many other Nunavut communities. The median age of city dwellers is 30.1 and only 3% of the population is over 65.


The economy of Iqaluit reflects the fact that it is the largest community in Nunavut, the capital city, and a major transportation hub for the eastern Arctic. In addition to large numbers of federal and territorial government jobs, Iqaluit also hosts a wide variety of organizations that serve the territory in general or its Inuit population specifically. These include the Nunavut Courts of Justice, the Qikiqtani General Hospital, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), institutions of public government under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, such as the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, regional Inuit organizations, various offices of national bodies such as the World Wildlife Fund, and the largest campus of Nunavut Arctic College, to name but a few. As a major transportation hub, Iqaluit anchors the major airlines and charter services, and is a primary offloading site for sealift. Not only do jet flights link with smaller aircraft going onward to communities, but the international airport sees increased traffic from overseas during the warmer months, some specifically using the Canadian Customs point as their entry into Canada. The Canadian military uses the airport as a Forward Operating Location, and international manufacturers use it as an aircraft cold-weather testing site. Many businesses have grown over the years to support the major employers and, as a result, Iqaluit hosts a wide range and number of independent businesses, shops, hotels, restaurants and entertainment facilities.

Although administration and transportation form the major part of the economy, mineral exploration in the area has identified several significant opportunities for mine development. Transportation and accessibility also make Iqaluit one of the more frequently visited tourist destinations, and one of the major nodes for the growing Arctic cruising industry. Arts and crafts are a major contributor to the economy. Iqaluit enjoys a population size and volume of visitor traffic that together provides a market that is not available in smaller communities. As a result, local galleries act as agents not only for local artists, but also artists in smaller communities, often holding exhibitions of print collections from print shops outside of Iqaluit. Many Iqaluit residents still participate in the traditional economy to contribute to their family’s food basket and participate in food-sharing networks.

The city is also a central location for banking and financial services and currently supports a number of major banks and funding agencies. However, many people also make use of Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly because the postal service can often be delayed when bad weather disrupts transportation. Credit cards and Interac are widely accepted, and there are several ATM cash points in the city (e.g., at the airport and in the Astro Hill complex).


The variety and location of wildlife around Iqaluit varies with the season. Given its location at the head of Frobisher Bay, Iqaluit’s access to marine wildlife during the winter is limited to those areas along the floe edge and into Davis Strait. The floe edge moves throughout the winter, depending on temperatures, winds, and the influence of the local tide, which is over 30 feet. At various times there are harp, ring and bearded seals, walrus, beluga, narwhal, other whales, and polar bear. Arctic char are present in many rivers, and cod can be found on the south side of the bay. The ever-present ravens over-winter, and are joined by a wide variety of marine and inland birds during the summer season. This includes gulls, falcons and other raptors, song birds, geese, ducks and large flocks of snow buntings. Recently, there have been several sightings of the common robin during the summer, which some see as an indicator of climate change. Caribou migrate around the community, and are currently usually found a fair distance out, requiring a significant investment of time and resources for hunting. Other terrestrial mammals are also present, including lemmings, Arctic hares, foxes and wolves.

Further Reading: 
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, ed. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
  • Dorais, Louis-Jacques, The language of the Inuit: syntax, semantics and society in the Arctic. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.
  • Eber, Dorothy Harley, When the whalers were up North. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989
  • Eno, Robert V. “Crystal Two: The Origin of Iqaluit.” Arctic, v. 56, no. 1, March 2003. Calgary: Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary, 2003
  • 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.
  • Newbery, Nick. Iqaluit gateway to Baffin. Iqaluit: Published for the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 4, Iqaluit by Nortext Pub. Co, 1995
  • Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. The Inuit way: a guide to Inuit culture, rev. ed. Ottawa: Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006.
  • Rholem, Karim. Uvattinnit: the people of the far north. Montréal: Stanké International, 2001.