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Resolute Bay

Resolute Bay

Qikiqtani School Operations (QSO)



The Hamlet of Resolute Bay, located on the south side of Cornwallis Island, has many archeological remains that date back back to pre-Dorset, Dorset and Thule times. The Inuktitut name of the community, Qausuittuq, means “the place with no dawn.” Situated on the north side of what became the Northwest Passage, the Resolute Bay area has a long history of European exploration as part of the search for the Passage and for John Franklin. The name of the Bay is attributed to the British ship “Resolute,” which was frozen in the ice there in the 1850s during the search for John Franklin. Although the area contains many vestiges of historic occupation, Inuit did not continuously occupy the site until 1953. The modern history of Resolute Bay began in 1947 when a meteorological station was constructed as part of the JAWS (Joint Arctic Weather Station) program of the Canadian and U. S. governments. The construction of an air force base followed in 1949. In 1953, Resolute Bay was one of the two locations (the other being Grise Fiord) to which Inuit were forcibly moved to help establish Canadian Arctic sovereignty. The RCMP accompanied the Inuit to the community. Because of the strategic location of the community, the federal government chose it as the base for the Polar Continental Shelf Project in the 1950s, which documented the extent of Canada’s marine shelf area and undertook active scientific research to understand better this unmapped (at the time) part of Canada. The federal government constructed a day school and housing for residents in the 1960s, as it did in many other northern communities. The community was moved away from the base area to its current location in 1975.

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.


Resolute, as many people call it, comes to life in the spring and summer months, when it becomes a base for expeditions of all sorts: people trekking by various means to the North Pole, people heading out to high Arctic research posts or tourism sites, and the Canadian military conducting training exercises. Year-round it is the transportation lifeline for Grise Fiord. Although many local residents maintain traditional Inuit hunting and harvesting practices, the focus of the town tends to be on exploration, military exercises and scientific research. Resolute residents have social and family connections with other high Arctic and northern Quebec Inuit communities. St. Barnabas Anglican Church is an outpost of the Pond Inlet Parish. Clergy from Pond will make occasional visits, but lay members of the community run regular services. There is no Roman Catholic church in Resolute.

Reflecting its role as a transportation hub, Resolute has more language diversity than most Qikiqtani region communities. Inuktitut is the mother tongue for 56% of the population, English for 40%, and French for 2%. However, English is the predominant language of work and home, spoken by 78% of the population as their first language at home, and by 14% as a second language at home. Inuktitut is used by 58% regularly in the home as a first or second language, and 5% can speak English and French.

Resolute Bay’s population is older than in most Nunavut communities, although still younger than the Canadian average. The 2011 Census counted 20 pre-school and 60 school-age children, making 37% of the population under 18. The median age is 26.5, and 5% of the population is over 65.


The economy of Resolute Bay draws mainly from its role as a transportation centre for the high Arctic. The airport supports both jet service and smaller aircraft used to access Grise Fiord and “off-strip” activity in support of exploration and scientific research. The community hosts the Polar Continental Shelf Project logistics base for polar research and a military Arctic training centre. It also acts as a staging area for supplies brought in by sealift and serves as the base for the annual parade of polar “explorers” travelling throughout the region or to the North Pole. Hotels provide accommodation for business travelers, tourists, exploration groups, research parties, and those travelling through to Grise Fiord who may be held up by the weather. Many local residents also supply goods and guiding services for the commercial polar bear sport hunt, a strictly regulated activity, which is of great economic importance to the community. There is a small arts and crafts community, and a local traditional economy based on wildlife harvesting.

As in most Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Resolute Bay, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Co-op store offers “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store, cash cheques, etc. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly since postal service can often be delayed if bad weather disrupts transportation.


The availability of wildlife around Resolute Bay changes with the seasons. Polar bears, wolves, foxes, caribou, ring and bearded seals and narwhal can be found in the area most of the year. Commercial polar bear sport hunting is part of the economy of the community, and is tightly controlled through wildlife regulations. The summer sees the return of about 30 species of Arctic birds, including king eider ducks, snow geese, gulls, jaegers, phalaropes and plovers. Travel into Lancaster Sound provides a great opportunity to see the wide variety of wildlife that congregates around polynyas, which are areas of permanently open water. Several locations near the community provide opportunities to fish for Arctic char. Nearby, the federal government has established the Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Area. Negotiations are currently underway for the establishment of a national park to include the wildlife preserve and other representative ecosystem features.

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.
  • Grant, Shelagh D. Sovereignty or security? Government policy in the Canadian North 1936-1950. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1988.
  • 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.
  • Marino, Carol, and Michael Foster. The Polar Shelf: the saga of Canada’s Arctic scientists. Toronto: NC Press, 1986.
  • 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)
  • Tester, Frank James and Kulchyski, Peter. Tammarniit (mistakes): Inuit relocation in the Eastern Arctic 1939-63. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1994.