Early History

The North Baffin area is scattered with archaeological Thule sites (Thule are the ancestors to the present day Inuit who arrived in the eastern Arctic about 1,000 years ago). There are also archaeological sites identified as Dorset, an earlier population known as Tuniit to the Inuit. In any case, it is evident that Inuit people have inhabited the North Baffin for many generations, living in small camps located at good hunting grounds around Eclipse Sound and up Navy Board Inlet. Summer and winter camps differed according to the animals to be hunted each season. The Inuit lived in sealskin tents (tupiit) in the summer and igloos (igluvigait) or sod huts roofed with skins and moss (qarngmait) in the winter. Travel was by dog team and sled (kamotik) in winter and spring and on foot or by small boat in summer. The qayaq (kayak) was used by a single hunter but rarely for travel. The diet of the Inuit consisted mainly of caribou, seal and fish in different forms with polar bear, walrus, narwhal, goose, ptarmigan and rabbit (arctic hare) in season. The meat was eaten raw, frozen, aged or, less often, boiled. A seal or whale oil lamp heated the home and in winter also supplied a source of light. Hunters employed a variety of skills and made use of harpoons, traps, or bows and arrows made from whalebone. The Inuit family at that time was self-sufficient, since hunting produced food, clothing, heat and light. It was a continual struggle to keep family and dogs fed, however, requiring constant travel to places where the animal life was most abundant. If animals were scarce, cold and starvation were always close at hand.

European contact

The name “Ponds Bay” was first given to the land about 5 km east of the present settlement in 1818. John Ross, a British explorer, named the area after John Ponds, at that time the Astronomer Royal. The first white settlers to the community moved the name over to the town’s present location but the Inuktitut name for this site has long been Mittimatalik, meaning “the landing place” (referring to a large rock on which seagulls used to alight and from which they used to fish.) DiagramAn earlier encampment called Igarjua was situated on the southern shore and at the eastern end of Eclipse Sound. The name, meaning “the big fireplace,” came from the appearance of the site. Mt. Herodier and the deep valley to the east suggest to the imagination a gigantic fireplace— especially when, as happens occasionally, a patch of mist drifts out of the valley or swirls about the top of Mt. Herodier like a cloud of smoke. Igarjua does not seem to have been a very important campsite for the Inuit before the arrival of the whalers, although there are a few indications of earlier habitation. The importance of the Igarjua site came from its proximity to Albert Harbour (Qurtaq) which was said to be the best harbour in the region. Scottish whalers occasionally used this location but apparently none overwintered there before the end of the nineteenth century.The name “Ponds Bay” was first given to the land about 5 km east of the present settlement in 1818. John Ross, a British explorer, named the area after John Ponds, at that time the Astronomer Royal. The first white settlers to the community moved the name over to the town’s present location but the Inuktitut name for this site has long been Mittimatalik, meaning “the landing place” (referring to a large rock on which seagulls used to alight and from which they used to fish.)

The 19th Century

In the 1820s, British whaling vessels began to penetrate Ponds Bay in search of the bowhead whale— Eclipse sound is named after one of the ships. Explorers searching for the Northwest Passage recorded visits here in the mid-1800s. As trade began with whalers and explorers, items like rifles, steel knives, sewing needles, tobacco and tea were gradually introduced into the Inuit culture. Wood from ships was much in demand since there were (and are) no trees to be found locally. In fact, woods began to change the style of sleds, tents and sod houses as the new material started to replace bone and antler. In the nineteenth century, the leader Kridlak heard from whalers that there were Inuit living far to the north across Baffin Bay in Greenland. He and his people set out form their home near Bylot Island in the Pond Inlet area on an epic journey to find these people. After eight years of travelling across Lancaster Sound, over Devon Island, and along the coast of Ellesmere Island, they reached Smith Sound, where only 19 km of water separate Canada and Greenland. They crossed the channel, and for the first time in several centuries, the Inuit of both sides of Baffin Bay met. The Greenland Inuit had lost many of the traditional skills because of an epidemic among the older people, and Kridlak’s group re-introduced them. The two groups intermarried. In the early 1870s, Kridlak, by then an old man, decided to return home. He died on the journey back. Today the North Baffin Inuit and those of Qaanaaq (Thule), Greenland, still consider each other kin and exchange trips between the two communities take place annually. With the decline of the whaling industry, traders began to settle in the area, exchanging southern items for sealskins fox and bear hides, and ivory tusks.

Twentieth Century

In the first decade of the 20th century, the bowhead whale had almost disappeared from Arctic waters and the whaling fleet, which had numbered up to 70 ships during the best years, had been reduced to a few units. Some Scottish ship owners, realizing that whaling alone could never again be profitable, decided that trading for skins and ivory offered better prospects and they established a few trading stations on the coast of Baffin Island. In 1903, Captain James S. Mutch arrived in the region on the sloop Albert. After spending the first winter at Erik Harbour, Mutch took his ship to what was later called Albert Harbour, and built a trading post at Igarjua. During the following years, the station was manned in turn by Mutch himself and then by Cameron. The Inuit they employed took a few bowhead whales, but it was mostly sealskins, narwhal and walrus tusks, as well as fox and bear skins that were traded. ShipIn 1906-07, Captain Joseph Bernier, leader of the Canadian Government expedition sent to establish sovereignty over the Arctic islands, wintered at Albert Harbour on the Arctic. He was in constant contact with the Inuit of Igarjua. In 1908, returning from Winter Harbour on Melville Island, he visited the site again on his way home. In April 1910, Bernier bought from Robert Kinnes, a ship owner from Dundee, “the house and the other erections at Ponds Bay fishing [whaling] stations.” A month later, he received a tract of land of 960 acres in the same location by letters patent from King George V for the sum of one dollar. Its previous owner had apparently called the Igarjua establishment “Scotia.” Bernier renamed it “ Berniera”. Bernier visited his newly acquired post in August 1910, when he returned north with the Arctic on another government expedition. This time he spent the winter in Arctic Bay, but in December he sent his second officer, Robert Janes, to Igarjua. Janes remained there until the following summer.

The Robert Janes Incident

In 1912, the southern press reported that Janes had found gold at Ponds Bay. Bernier left the Government service and returned to the north aboard theMinnie Maud with a party of eight. Arriving at Ponds Bay in late August, he found that of the two ships preceding him, one, the Algerine, had sunk after she had been nipped by ice, while the other, the Neptune, was returning home, having found no trace of the reported gold at Salmon River. At that time about fifty Inuit inhabited Igarjua. Bernier took his ship to Albert Harbour for the winter and from there he sent some of his party on hunting and trading expeditions. Bernier himself spent much of his time trading at the station. In 1914, Bernier returned to “Berniera” on the Guide, a small steamer he had just bought in Scotland. Shortly thereafter, Captain H.T. Munn arrived on theAlbert (which he had bought for his “Arctic Gold Exploration Syndicate”), and built a small trading post at Button Point. Both Bernier and Munn returned south the following year leaving other men in charge of their respective stations. Bernier was back on his steamer for another wintering season in 1916. Munn had also returned but went on to Southampton Island where he spent the following two winters. In 1918, Munn bought Bernier’s station and the next year sailed again to Igarjua, where W. Caron, Bernier’s nephew, had just spent his third winter. In 1920, Munn returned to Igarjua to winter for the last time with Caron whom he left in charge in 1921. This same summer, the Hudson’s Bay Company established a post at Pond Inlet, about 13 km west of Igarjua. Gaston Herodier, described, as a man of “vigour and good spirits,” was the Hudson’s Bay Company’s first post manager. In 1916, Janes came back to the region and took up residence at Tulukkan about 25 kilometres west of the present community of Pond Inlet. There he traded in furs, but his story ends unhappily. For three years in a row he had waited in vain for the ship that was to renew his stores, but his lender had given up on him. It was therefore an embittered and desperate man who decided early in 1920 to return south, planning to take with him the greatest possible number of furs on the journey of thousands of kilometres. But by then, Janes had become violent and a serious concern to the Inuit living in the area. Fearing for the safety of their wives and families while they were away hunting, and as a result of some nasty incidents, the Inuit decided to kill Janes before he killed them. This plan was indeed carried out at Cape Crawford. Word of the “murder” spread south via a passing ship and as a consequence the RCMP sent Staff Sergeant A.H. Joy to investigate the matter in 1921. A court trial was held with the Inuit and the several visiting southern officials present. A local man, Nuqatlak, was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary near Winnipeg. After only a few months in jail, Nuqatlak contracted tuberculosis and was returned to Pond Inlet to spend his last days. The body of Robert Janes was reburied about 1 km west of the settlement. His grave can still be seen today, beside the grave of another trader, Hector Pitchforth. (Pitchforth died at Home Bay but the RCMP later buried his body at Pond Inlet after an investigation into his death). The RCMP became a permanent fixture of the community in the summer of 1922 when the first RCMP building was opened beside the Hudson’s Bay Company post. It was the same year that Munn sold all his properties to the Hudson’s Bay Company. After that, Igarjua, where most of the region’s population had gathered (at least intermittently) declined in importance. However, it remained the site of a sizeable permanent camp until 1965, when its population moved to Pond Inlet or nearby camps. Very little remains at Igarjua from its whaling and trading days, except for the ground which is still saturated with whale and seal oil. Two graves can still be seen at the entrance to the valley behind Igarjua. One is that of Frederick Bockenhauser, an oiler on the Arctic, who died on February 11, 1907. The other is that of Arthur Haak, a German cinematographer who had come with Bernier and died of exposure in Navy Board Inlet during a sled trip in March 1915. His body was found huddled up in a sitting position, with a pipe in his mouth and, being frozen, was buried in the same position.

Increasing Contacts

As early as 1900, the Reverend Peck of the Anglican Church of Canada had made contact with the north Baffin Inuit. . The Roman Catholic Church had been very active in the Hudson Bay area, moving north via the Igloolik Inuit. In September 1929 both Anglican and Catholic missionaries arrived on board the HBC vessel Nascopie. The Reverends H. Duncan and J.H. Turner, both from England, set up the small Anglican mission while Father Bazin and Father Girard, priests from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate built the Catholic mission. The two priests were never to see their families again, but their church, now newly renovated, still stands today as the oldest building in Pond Inlet. The RCMP members, along with the Inuit Special Constables, frequently made long and difficult patrols. Both the missionaries and the RCMP regularly travelled from Clyde River around to Arctic Bay and up to Devon and Ellesmere Islands, often under hazardous, freezing conditions. Many of their travels were carefully documented and make fascinating reading today. Names such as Staff Sargent Joy, Constable Delisle, Canon J.H. Turner, and Special Constables Panipakoochoo and Kyak are well known from these records. Panipakoochoo and his family travelled with Larsen on board the St. Roch on its historic voyage through the Northwest Passage. Kyak made many long journeys guiding RCMP patrols, and eventually received the Order of Canada for his services.

Coming off the Land

Most Inuit families continued to live out “on the land” until the 1960s, coming into the settlement only to sell furs and buy supplies. Doug Wilkinson, a visiting writer and photographer, recorded this way of life in 1953 when he spent a year living with Idlout and his family in the area. His book, Land of the Long Day makes interesting reading. (A copy is available in the Rebecca P. Idlout Library.) By the 1960s the government of Canada was realizing a need to demonstrate its presence in the area, and a government-funded school was opened on March 27, 1961. Before this time the missionaries had been teaching Inuit of all ages to read and write in their own language using the syllabic writing system, while the RCMP administered the daily organization of the settlement, including social services. A mechanic from the south arrived to operate a small power plant that was to supply the growing community’s electrical needs. A Registered Nurse took over providing medical services that had hitherto been given by RCMP members and missionaries on their travels to the Inuit campsites. A doctor, dentist and eye specialist had arrived annually on supply ships since the 1920s— first on the HBC vessel Nascopie and later on the government vesselC.D. Howe. This medical team would examine and X-ray all Inuit camped in the settlement during ‘ship time’ and then take any whom required further treatment south for a year or more. The government felt that tuberculosis was to be brought under control at any cost and many Inuit families were torn apart as the ship left— in some cases they never saw or heard from their relatives again. In the mid-1960s, in order that all children could go to school, the government opened a hostel for those children whose parents did not wish to move in off the land. Town life was not part of the Inuit culture at that time— and for good reason. Living together in large groups made successful hunting difficult, concentrating pressure on a scattered resource. The separation of parents and children, however, caused much unhappiness and most families gradually moved into the settlement. The government provided small pre-fabricated ‘matchbox’ houses containing an oil stove, lights and a water tank for these families. The houses proved difficult to maintain and were often overcrowded, but by bringing the families together into a community the government found it easier to keep statistics and administer social benefits. As the north opened up with air travel in the late 1960s, planes began to arrive in Pond Inlet, first using an airstrip built on the sea ice in front of the community. Later, Atlas Aviation from Resolute Bay would land on the beach near Salmon River to the west of the settlement. Regular air services began with small single and twin-engine aircraft, and a land strip was built on the hill to the south of the settlement. It soon needed lengthening to accommodate larger aircraft. Workers brought in from the south did this airstrip improvement in 1973-74. During the 1970s development became more rapid and, operating under government contracts, the Arctic Research Establishment was opened to train local Inuit in scientific laboratory methods and to do research work on ice formation and patterns. In addition to this venture, the Atmospheric Environment Service opened a weather station in Pond Inlet. After a brief training period, local Inuit were able to operate the station 24 hours a day, providing air traffic advisories and weather observations to the main centre in Iqaluit. This service continues today. The first Co-op in the community began in a small building with the sale of carvings, handicrafts and some food items. In the mid-1970s, under new management, the members of the Toonoonik-Sahoonik Co-operative built a grocery, hardware and clothing store, transformed a transient centre into a thriving hotel and encouraged tourism with the operation of a fishing camp at Kuluktoo Bay. The Co-op has continued to be a strong, well-supported community enterprise.

The Modern Era

Up until 1969, the only communication with the outside world was by radio, but fierce solar storms could disrupt the signals for weeks at a time. Telephone service became available to the community around 1970, but it was not until ANIK satellite was launched in 1975 that regular telephone communication with the outside world was available. Now it is possible to direct-dial to anywhere in the world. The same satellite brought radio and television signals; prior to that the only broadcast signal available were short wave radio from the south. Pond Inlet now has CBC radio and television, and Television Northern Canada (TVNC) broadcast into the community. There is also a private cable TV system that provides many additional channels. The community officially took over the running of its affairs on April 1, 1975, when Pond Inlet was incorporated as a Hamlet (equivalent to town status but without taxation powers). The Mayor, Councillors, administrators and employees are all from the community, including mechanics and tradesmen who have received training and certifications in locations all across Canada. The municipality continues to provide the organization, budgeting and planning skills to advise all levels of government on the administration of the community and the issues that affect us. Departments of the Government of the Northwest Territories have gradually been transferring responsibilities to the community level, a process that continues to evolve even after the creation of the Nunavut Territory as a separate political entity in 1999. As Pond Inlet grows rapidly, new buildings replace old ones and are soon replaced again. The original school was replaced, then a gym was added, then a second school for younger students was built in 1988. The new Nasivvik High School, under construction since 1997, will open in September 1999. The Anglican congregation has built the long, low church in the centre of town. The Co-op now operates the Sauniq Hotel (which replaced the original hotel), a conference centre, and a large, modern store. Also housed in Pond Inlet’s “Mall” are a coffee shop, a sports equipment store and a video rental. The Hudson’s Bay Company expanded several times at its beach location before it finally built a large store at the top of the hill. Under a different ownership structure, the northern Hudson’s Bay Company stores became a new entity known as Northern Stores. (Hudson’s Bay Company stores still operate in southern Canada, however.) The post office was for many years a side-room in the Postmistress’ house but when the postal contract was taken over by the Hamlet; an addition was built on the Hamlet office to handle mail services. The new Hamlet Office located next to the community arena, opened officially in early 1997, and renovations to the old Hamlet building are nearing completion. The Nattinnak Centre, a cultural and natural history interpretive facility, was completed in 1996. The first part of the building to open was the re-located Rebecca P. Idlout Library in July 1996. Extensive interpretive displays and exhibits have recently been installed, and new programs for both visitors and residents are constantly in development. Visitor information services are also provided at the centre. The list of improved facilities goes on and on as growth forces the expansion and modernisation of the community. In addition to public housing units, more families in Pond Inlet are taking advantage of Nunavut Housing Corporation’s programs to become homeowners. Construction of additional staff housing units is underway for 65 Government of Nunavut positions slated for transfer to Pond Inlet under the decentralisation initiative. With some 50 babies being born to Pond Inlet families every year, rapid community growth is certain to continue long into the future. The foregoing is an updated compilation from three earlier pamphlets: Pond Inlet, NWT, A Brief History of Pond Inlet by Philippa Ootoowak) and Elements of a Pond Inlet Tour (GNWT Dept. of Economic Development and Tourism). Additional material is taken from the GNWT Dept. of Culture and Communications’ NWT Data Book.

Readings on Arctic history:

Robert McGhee, Canadian Arctic Prehistory. Toronto: Van Nostrand Reinhold Ltd., 1978
Robert McGhee, Ancient Canada. Canadian Museum of Civilization. 1989. Chapter 5 “The First Arctic Explorers” and Chapter 9 “Arctic Whalers.”

You may also wish to read:
Qitdlarssuaq, The Story of a Polar Migration. Guy Mary-Rousseliere. Winnipeg: Wuerz Publishing Limited, 1991.

Captain J.E. Bernier’s Contribution to Canadian Sovereignty in the Arctic.Yolande Dorion-Robitaille. Indian and Northern Affairs, 1978.

Land of the Long Day. Doug Wilkinson. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1955

Check with the Rebecca P. Idlout Library for historic works that contain references to Pond Inlet.


801 Tuqaarvik St.
Pond Inlet, Nunavut
X0A 0S0