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Kimmirut

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Kimmirut

Region: 
Qikiqtani School Operations (QSO)

Community

About
History: 

The area around Kimmirut (formerly called Lake Harbour) is rich in evidence of inhabitation stretching back to Dorset, Pre-Dorset and Thule Peoples. Given its location on Hudson Strait, leading into Hudson Bay, local residents’ first contact with Europeans took place in the 1600s, when explorers travelled through the region and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) first began its activities on the bay for which it is named. Given the community’s strategic location, contact with Europeans and Americans evolved with the whaling period in the 1800s. The Anglican Church was established in 1909, closely followed by an HBC post in 1911. Lake Harbour served for many years as a primary administrative centre for missionaries and HBC staff travelling out to other locations on southern Baffin Island. Dewey Soper, a Canadian biologist, artist and Arctic explorer, lived in the community in the 1930s while carrying out biological surveys in the area. The house he lived in still stands today, and a river and a lake are named after him. In January 1996, the community reverted to its original Inuktitut name, Kimmirut, which means “heel” in Inuktitut and refers to the shape of a distinctive rock outcropping on the harbour.

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: 

Kimmirut is known as a small, welcoming and friendly place, with a very traditional culture. The valley in which it is located has lush vegetation that supports the local wildlife, and many residents participate in subsistence harvesting and traditional arts and crafts activities. Buildings from Kimmirut’s early era, including the first RCMP post (1915), the Hudson’s Bay buildings, and Dewey Soper’s house, now an art gallery, are still standing and make for an interesting walking tour. Kimmirut’s only church, St. Paul’s Anglican, dates back to 1909. It was the centre of much Anglican Mission activity on southern Baffin Island and is still actively used.

Kimmirut is another of Baffin Island’s Inuktitut-speaking communities. In the 2011 Census, 91% of the population said that Inuktitut was its mother tongue, and 89% uses it as the first language at home. 16% of the population does not speak either English or French, which means that newcomers or visitors may sometimes need to find someone who speaks English to translate for them. However, 83% of the community speaks English and 77% use English at home as a first or second language. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both Inuktitut and English, 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 on occasion. 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.

The population of Kimmirut is young, as it is many other small Nunavut communities. The 2011 Census counted 55 pre-school and 125 school-age children, making 40% of the population under 18. The median age is 23.4. Kimmirut also has a higher percentage of people over 65 than most Nunavut communities: 6% of the population.

Economy: 

Kimmirut has a strong local arts and crafts sector. Kimmirut soapstone is a distinctive apple green colour, and a valuable resource for world-famous local carvers. There is also mining activity in the area, particularly prospecting for precious and semi-precious gems such as sapphire, spinel, scapolite, tourmaline, iolite, apatite, zircon, moonstone, garnet, and lapis lazuli, which have been found in the vicinity. Recently, local artisans have also taken up jewellery making, particularly using these semi-precious stones. There is also a tradition in the community of scrimshaw etching on walrus ivory, which probably dates back to the influence of whalers in the area. In addition to these activities and the local service wage economy, local residents also engage in subsistence hunting and fishing. Although Kimmirut does not host any of the decentralized offices of the Government of Nunavut, its economy does benefit from nearby Katannalik Territorial Park and the historic Soper River, both of which are popular summer tourism destinations.

As in most Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Kimmirut, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Northern and Co-op Stores offer “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store and cash cheques, etc. 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 because postal service can often be delayed when bad weather disrupts transportation.

Wildlife: 

Kimmirut’s location gives it good access to both marine and inland wildlife species. Seals, beluga, walrus, whales and polar bear can be present along the coast. Community members also harvest cod and Arctic char. Inland wildlife includes caribou, wolves, and small game species, such as Arctic hares, and a variety of bird species, such as snow buntings, falcons, geese, ptarmigan, and snowy owls.

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.
  • Dalton, Anthony. Arctic naturalist: the life of J. Dewey Soper. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010
  • 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. http://www.uqar.ca/files/boreas/inuitway_e.pdf