Pond Inlet (Inuktitut: Mittimatalik, ‘the place where the landing place is') is a small, predominantly Inuit community in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada, located on the northeastern tip of Baffin Island on the south shore of Eclipse Sound (Tasiujaq), facing the magnificent mountains of Bylot Island. The waterways between Bylot Island and Baffin Island are Navy Board Inlet. Navy Board Inlet is the entrance to the Northwest Passage. At 72º 41' 81" North and 77º 58' 82" West, Pond Inlet is 644 kilometres (400 miles) above the Arctic Circle. Pond Inlet, the largest community on Northern Baffin Island, part of the Arctic Cordillera, with mountains visible from all sides, is called the "Jewel of the North". At the ice flow edge there is an abundance of wildlife, including polar bears, caribou, wolves, Arctic foxes, ringed seal, and narwhals. It attracts hundreds of visitors each year, who travel by air or by cruise ship.

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 (qamutik) 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 group travel. The diet of the Inuit consisted mainly of caribou, seal, fish, polar bear, walrus, narwhal, goose, ptarmigan, and rabbit (Arctic hare) in season. Meat was eaten raw, frozen, aged, or less often, boiled. A seal or whale oil lamp heated the home and supplied a source of light during the winter months. Hunters employed a variety of skills and used harpoons, traps, or bows and arrows made from whalebone. The Inuit family, at that time, was self-sufficient; hunting animals provided food, clothing, heat, and light. It was a continual struggle to keep family and dogs fed, requiring constant travel from place to place where animal life was most abundant. If animals were scarce, cold and starvation were always close at hand.

European Contact

The name "Pond’s Bay" was first given to the land about five kilometres east of the present settlement. In 1818, John Ross, a British explorer, named the area after John Pond, at that time the Astronomer Royal. The first white settlers to the community moved the name over to the hamlet’s present location but the Inuktitut name for this site has long been Mittimatalik, meaning “the place where the landing place is” (referring to a large rock on which seagulls used to alight and from which they used to fish.) An earlier encampment called Igarjuaq 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. Igarjuaq does not seem to have been a particularly important campsite for the Inuit before the arrival of the whalers, although there are a few indications of earlier habitation. The importance of the Igarjuaq 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 19th Century

In the 1820s, British whaling vessels began to penetrate Pond’s 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 very much in demand since there were no trees to be found locally. In fact, the use of wood began to change the style of sleds, tents, and sod houses as the new material started to replace bone and antler. With the decline of the whaling industry, traders began to settle in the area, exchanging southern items for seal skins, fox and bear hides, and ivory tusks.

In the nineteenth century, the leader Kridlak (the greatest angakok or medicine man of northern Baffin Island) heard from European whalers that there were Inuit living far to the north across Baffin Bay in Greenland. He and his people set out from 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 kilometres 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 that killed all but the young people. They had forgotten how to make igloos, kayaks, bows, and fish spears. All these skills were taught to them by Kridlak and his people, and the two groups mingled in marriage. In the early 1870s, Kridlak, by then an old man, longed to return to his homeland. He died on the journey back. Today the North Baffin Inuit and those of Qaanaaq (Thule), Greenland, still consider each other kin regardless of the boundary between Canada and Greenland. Numerous exchange trips between the two communities have been recorded throughout the years. Kridlak’s journey was the result of a curiosity and determination as great as that of any foreign explorer, and the meeting of the Inuit across Smith Sound was a high point in Arctic history.


The 20th 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 its 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 Igarjuaq. 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. In 1906-07, Captain Joseph Bernier, leader of the Canadian Government expedition sent to establish sovereignty over the Arctic islands, wintered at Albert Harbour on his ship the CGS Arctic. He was in constant contact with the Inuit of Igarjuaq. 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 Pond’s 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 Igarjuaq establishment “Scotia”. Bernier renamed it “Berniera”. Bernier visited his newly acquired post in August 1910, when he returned north with the CGS 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 Igarjuaq. Janes remained there until the following summer.

The Robert Janes Incident

In 1912, the southern press reported that Robert Janes had found gold at Pond’s Bay. Bernier left the Government service and returned to the north aboard the Minnie Maud with a party of eight. Arriving at Pond’s 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 Igarjuaq. 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 the Albert (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 Igarjuaq, where W. Caron, Bernier’s nephew, had just spent his third winter. In 1920, Munn returned to Igarjuaq 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 thirteen kilometres west of Igarjuaq. Gaston Herodier, described, as a man of “vigour and good spirits,” was the Hudson’s Bay Company’s first post manager. Janes came back to the region in 1916 to become a trapper 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 has an unhappy ending. 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 was 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 because of some nasty incidents, the Inuit decided to kill Janes before he killed them. This plan was indeed carried out at Cape Crawford. Janes died on March 15, 1920. Word of the murder spread south via a passing ship and consequently the RCMP sent Staff Sergeant A.H. Joy to investigate the matter in 1921. A court trial was held with the Inuit and several visiting southern officials present. A local man, Nuqatlak, was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in Stony Mountain Penitentiary near Winnipeg, Manitoba. 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 in a shallow grave on the shore of Eclipse Sound, near Salmon Creek. 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 detachment 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, Igarjuaq, 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 Igarjuaq 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 Igarjuaq. 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 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 for 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 in Pond Inlet 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 vessel C.D. Howe. This medical team would examine and x-ray all Inuit camped in the settlement during ‘ship time’ and then take those requiring 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 prefabricated ‘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 was able to 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 landing strip was built on the hill to the south of the settlement. The airstrip soon needed to be lengthened to accommodate larger aircraft. Workers brought in from the south made improvements to this airstrip in 1973-74. During the 1970s development became more rapid and, operating under government contracts, the Arctic Research Establishment 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 twenty-four hours a day, providing air traffic advisories and weather observations to the main centre in Iqaluit. This service continues today.

The first Co-operative 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 Tununiq Sauniq (Toonoonik-Sahoonik) Co-operative built a grocery, hardware, and clothing store, and encouraged tourism with the operation of a fishing camp at Kuluktoo Bay. The Co-operative continues to be a strong, well-supported enterprise serving the community by managing contracts and delivering goods and services to the citizens of Pond Inlet. Some of the services provided are school bus services, Canadian North air services, Qilaut heavy equipment rentals and services, construction contracts, TV Cable Services, a grocery and department store, snowmobile and ATV repair shop, and others. The Co-op also operates the Sauniq Inns North Hotel and conference centre.

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 signals 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 additional channels. The community’s broadband communications have been served by the Qiniq network since 2005. Qiniq is a fixed wireless service to homes and businesses, connecting to the outside world via a satellite backbone. The Qiniq network is designed and operated by SSI Micro. In 2017, the network was upgraded to 4G LTE technology, and 2G-GSM for mobile voice.

The community officially took over running its own affairs on April 1, 1975, when Pond Inlet was incorporated as a Hamlet.

As Pond Inlet continues to grow, 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, Ulaajuk Elementary School, was built in 1988. The Nasivvik High School opened in September 1999. The Hudson’s Bay Company expanded several times at its beach location before building a large store at the top of the hill. Under a different ownership structure, the northern Hudson’s Bay Company stores became known as Northern Stores. 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 in early 1997. The Nattinnak Visitor Centre, a cultural and natural history interpretive facility, completed in 1996, was built on the waterfront overlooking Eclipse Sound and Bylot Island. In July 1996, the hamlet’s Rebecca P. Idlout Library was moved to its current location in the building it shares with the Nattinnak Visitor Centre. The centre showcases extensive interpretive displays and exhibits and provides new programming for visitors and residents. 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. With some 50 babies being born to Pond Inlet families every year, rapid community growth is certain to continue long into the future.

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.