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Qikiqtani School Operations (QSO)



The area surrounding Pangnirtung (Pannirtuuq, “place of the bull caribou”), which is located on Baffin Island on a fiord off Cumberland Sound, has seen human occupation since pre-Dorset times (2000-500 BC). In addition to being accessible by sea, “Pang” is located at the end of Aksayuk Pass, a major pass that links Pangnirtung with Qikiqtarjuaq and has been used as a major cross country travel route. The first European explorer in the area was John Davis, who came searching for the Northwest Passage in 1585. In 1838, William Penny, a Scottish whaler, entered Cumberland Sound and found that the area offered good potential for a whale hunt. In 1840, the first whaling station was established at Kekerten Island, located in Cumberland Sound. American and Scottish whaling parties moved into the area, and local Inuit began to move close to the whaling operations at Kekerten and on Blacklead Island, further down Cumberland Sound, for employment and trade.

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established a trading post in Pangnirtung in 1921 and an RCMP detachment followed in 1923. The Anglican Church arrived in 1929 and established St. Luke’s Mission and Hospital, which served much of the eastern Arctic. Many Inuit started moving into the community in the early 1960s after a distemper epidemic decimated the sled dog population. In 1962, the federal government established an administrative office and began constructing housing in the community. Auyuittuq National Park Reserve (now a full park) had its start in the 1970s, with Parks Canada making Pangnirtung the administrative centre for the park. The community’s access to rich marine resources encouraged the development of a fisheries industry in town. In addition, with the development of a tapestry weaving studio and an artists’ studio co-operative, Pangnirtung became a centre for eastern Arctic Inuit art. The Hamlet was formally established in 1973, and in 1999 it became one of the communities to host several decentralized departments of the Government of Nunavut.

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.


Local Inuit have adopted a number of western art techniques and then turned them into powerful expressions of Inuit culture. The Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts houses the Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio, which started as an economic development initiative of the Government of the Northwest Territories in the 1970s, but has since become world-famous for its striking interpretations of Inuit life and legends. It also houses the Pangnirtung Print Shop, which is renowned for its stencil work, but is continually experimenting with new printmaking techniques. Pangnirtung is home to carvers whose work is exhibited around the world, and younger artists have taken up photography, documenting both community life and the spectacular local scenery through their art.

Traditional hunting and fishing for “country food” (wildlife hunted as food) such as caribou, beluga whale and ptarmigan still is an important part of community life, and skilled seamstresses continue to prepare skins from the hunt to make boots and other garments.

Although Pangnirtung’s residents are extremely proud and protective of their Inuit culture and Inuktitut dialect, they have been in contact with European culture for hundreds of years and formed close ties with many of the whalers. Many have a whaler somewhere in their family tree. The Angmarlik Interpretive Centre and the Parks Canada Interpretive Centre, both within the Hamlet, and Kekerten Territorial Park, a three-hour trip away by boat, document local whaling history and its relationship to local Inuit culture.

The Anglican Mission arrived in Pangnirtung in 1929 and has had an important presence in developing the community. St. Luke’s Hospital, built in 1930, was the first hospital on Baffin Island. Eventually the hospital was closed and the building was used to house the Arthur Turner Training School (ATTS), an Anglican seminary established to encourage Inuit to join the ministry. Now most of the Inuit clergy for the Anglican Church in the eastern Arctic are ATTS grads. There are currently two churches, St. Luke’s Anglican and a Pentecostal church (no telephone). A Roman Catholic priest visits the community from time to time, but there is no Catholic church.

As is true of most communities in the Qikiqtani region, the Inuktitut language is strong in Pangnirtung. You will hear it spoken on the street and used regularly in daily life. According to the 2011 Census, 93% of the population declares Inuktitut as its mother tongue, and only 4% English. Nearly three-quarters of Pangnirtung residents speak English, 26% use English as a second language at home, and there is a handful of French speakers. However, 27% of residents speak only Inuktitut, which means that newcomers or visitors occasionally need to find someone who speaks English to translate for them. Inuktitut is the primary language of the home for 88%, and many of the English-speaking families also use Inuktitut regularly in the home. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both languages, 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 occasionally. 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.

Pangnirtung is a growing, young community. The 2011 Census counted 175 pre-school and 420 school-age children, making 42% of the population under 18. The median age of residents is 23, and 5% of the population is over 65. The Angmarlik Interpretive Centre hosts gatherings for Elders in the community.


Pangnirtung is one of the few communities in Nunavut with a truly diversified economy. For several decades, tourism has played an important role in the community’s development. Pangnirtung serves as a gateway to territorial and federal parks, and offers its own spectacular scenery and art-based tourism. Auyuittuq National Park Reserve was created in the 1970s and became a full park after the settlement of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Parks Canada made Pangnirtung the administrative centre for the park, with a satellite office in Qikiqtarjuaq. Parks Canada also built a full interpretive centre for the park in Pangnirtung in 1992. Kekerten Territorial Park preserves and interprets the history of the whaling period in the area, with the Angmarlik Interpretive Centre providing an anchor for the park in the Hamlet. Local outfitters take visitors to both parks, which can be reached by boat in summer and snowmobile in winter. Pangnirtung is also a favoured destination for mountain climbers. The record for the longest rappel in the world was set in Auyuittuq on Mount Thor.

Pangnirtung also houses the decentralized offices of the Government of Nunavut, including the Nunavut Bureau of Statistics, community economic development programs for Economic Development and Transportation, and career, early childhood and school services for the Department of Education. Given the marine history of the community, the development of the Arctic char and turbot industry is a natural extension, and recently the harbour has been expanded to accommodate larger vessels and to enable them to unload fish for the fish plant. Pangnirtung is one of the eastern Arctic’s primary art centres, providing employment for many artists. In addition to the local service economy, many residents also engage in subsistence hunting and fishing as part of the community food supply.

A number of Pangnirtung economic activities can be watched in action on the Hamlet’s video page, from the provision of town services (watch a house having its water tank filled!) to views of the fish processing plant, inside the weave shop, and an online tour of the Angmarlik Visitors’ Centre.

As in most Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Pangnirtung, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Northern Store and Co-op offer “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store, cash cheques, etc. Interac and credit cards are accepted at most retail outlets. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly since the postal service can often be delayed by bad weather and travel disruptions.


Located on the shores of Pangnirtung Fiord, which enters into Cumberland Sound, Pangnirtung has plentiful marine wildlife. The area historically supported a large whaling fleet and multiple whaling camps. Whales of various species, including bowhead, beluga, narwhal, minke and orca, are still prevalent, as are walrus, various seal species, and, of course, polar bears. Fishing plays a large part in the local economy and there are commercial harvests of char, turbot, scallops, and Greenland shrimp. The local topography does not support herds of caribou and local hunters must usually travel across the Sound or inland to find small herds. The high cliffs and deeply incised valleys support a wide variety of bird species, including falcons, ptarmigan, gulls, and migratory song birds. Small game, including lemming, foxes, and wolves are also present. Polar bears very occasionally wander near town, as can be seen in photos taken in December 2012.

Further Reading: 
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, eds. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
  • Boas, Franz. The Central Eskimo. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1964
  • 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
  • Hankins, Gerald: Sunrise over Pangnirtung: the story of Otto Schaefer, M.D. Calgary: Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary, 2000.
  • 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. (also available electronically on the GN Orientation website)