History

The history of Grise Fiord begins with the migratory movements of people from northeastern Asia across the Bering Strait into North America 4,500 years ago. These prehistoric hunter-gatherers travelled eastward across the Arctic Archipelago, constantly exploring for better hunting areas. The Dorset Culture people reached eastern Ellesmere Island at least 4,000 years ago, settling into the region where they had discovered polynyas and open seawater. Archaeological remains of Dorset houses, the stone foundations of their peat huts and tent rings can still be seen near Grise Fiord. Please note that it is illegal to disturb or take any artifacts from any ancient sites in Nunavut.

Later, about 1,000 years ago, moving rapidly eastward when the climate had warmed, another group of people arrived into this region — the Thule Culture. Using skin boats for transportation in summer and dog-teams pulling sleds in winter, they harvested sea mammals including the Bowhead Whale. Ancient Thule ruins are distinctly identifiable because of the Bowhead ribs they used to build their peat houses. By 1000 A.D. the Thule had reached Ellesmere Island.

Dorset and Thule archaeological sites are distinguishable by their location. Having arrived earlier, when the sea level was much higher than it is today, Dorset sites are found further inland from the shoreline, whereas Thule sites are situated near the present-day coast. Until recent historic times, the only people who lived in Grise Fiord year-round area were the Thule.

A small group of Greenlandic Inuit visited southern Ellesmere Island in the 1860s — led by Qitdlarsuaq, who was fleeing from his enemies on route to northwestern Greenland. Memories from his nephew Miqqusaq recount how they originally had come from Cumberland Sound, Baffin Island, in the Qikiqtaaluk region. Qitdlarsuaq’s epic journey is one of the last few such odysseys recorded in the annals of Northern Oral History.

In 1880, under Queen Victoria, Great Britain transferred ownership the High Arctic Islands to the Government of Canada. To enforce Canadian Sovereignty over these lands, the Federal Government established Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachments in the region. The Craig Harbour RCMP station opened in 1922, situated at the southeastern tip of Ellesmere Island.

Until 1922, no permanent Inuit lived north of Lancaster Sound due to the uncertainty of weather in the fall season. Autumn storms with gale force winds were so violent that the sea ice would be blown away like shattered glass. Travelling through the nearby mountain ranges was also very hazardous due to open crevasse areas in the many glaciers.

To assert Canadian Arctic Sovereignty in the Cold War period following World War II, the Federal Government decided to add a ‘civilian’ component to the High Arctic area. In 1953, Ottawa decided to relocate nine Northern Québec Inuit families, along with three Pond Inlet Inuit families, to go ‘help out.’ This strategic move was political in nature, described to the Inuit people as a ‘temporary’ option, with a two-year promise of returning them back to their original homes if they later so desired. Sadly those promises were broken, causing undo hardship for the relocated families. More than 40 years later, the Government of Canada formally apologized for this botched social experiment. The communities of Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord survived their relocation ordeal and are thriving today with pride. The local people are very resilient as a result of their arduous experience.

The resettled Inuit families were moved to Lindstrom Peninsula in 1953, about ten kilometres from Grise Fiord. The Craig Harbour RCMP outpost had been closed in the 1930s, but it was reopened in Cold War 1951. Craig Harbour, unfortunately, had a poor beach that made unloading goods from ship to shore very difficult and the surrounding landscape showed little prospect for expansion. So, in 1955, the RCMP detachment was moved to Grise Fiord. The RCMP outpost move was completed by the fall of 1956. With the first school coming to Grise Fiord in 1962, the little group of pioneers on Lindstrom Peninsula once again packed up their belongings and moved for the last time to present-day Grise Fiord.

The Lindstrom Peninsula site remains a very important place for the individuals who were relocated there in 1953 and 1955, also for those people who were born there and who grew up there. The land has very strong spiritual significance to many local people.

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