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A brief history of Kangiqsujuaq

In depth

The Thule, direct ancestors of the Inuit, gradually occupied the territories which had been inhabited by Dorset groups. The Thule arrived from Alaska between 800 and 600 years ago. The new arrivals are known to have better adapted to the rugged and less stable environment of the North. Their implements, which were essentially made from bone, ivory and polished stone, are characterized by a high degree of specialization, specifically for the hunting of marine mammals. The end of the Thule period is recognized to have taken place only after 1771 with the onset of regular contacts with Europeans, specifically the Moravian missionaries.

The Tarramiut (people of the North) occupied the south coast of Nuvummiut Imarpinga (Hudson Straight) from Ivujivik to Quaqtaq. Most lived in small groups of 10 to 15 people and about half of their population lived at Kangiqsujuaq – the part of the area richest in resources.
The territory of Kangiqsujuaq has a coastline approximately 75 km in length, encompassing some 30 fish-bearing rivers, and extends 120 km inland. The Inuit distinguish two main zones to their territory: “Agguq” (windward side) and “Uqquq” (leeward side).
The Tarramiut traditionally lived in a series of camps that relied on the seasonal availability of fish, game and marine mammals. During the winter months, many of them built their igloos on the leeward side of the rocky points. These locations allowed for continued access to marine mammals, as the strong current kept part of the sea ice open all winter. Although the Tarramiut customarily lived in groups of no greater than five families, it is believed that the presence of southerners at Aniuvarjuaq (Stupart Bay) contributed to the increased population at Kangiqsujuaq.

In 1773, Jens Haven, a Moravian missionary from Labrador, travelled into Ungava Bay. Based on information given to him by his Inuit guide, he recorded population estimates along the coast by the number of dwellings in each location. At that time, Aivirtuq, less than 30 km south of Kangiqsujuaq, had a population of about 300 people, the largest in Ungava Bay. The high number of inhabitants was due to it being a traditional Bowhead whale and walrus hunting area. In 2008, Aivirtuq was again the location of a Bowhead whale hunt; the first in the region in over a hundred years.
Inuit oral history and documented accounts from the 1860s tell the story of the demise of some of the survivors from the wreck of the HBC supply ship “Kitty” in the vicinity of Aivirtuq. This event is believed to be the basis for James Houston’s novel “The White Dawn” and the subsequent movie of the same name.

While there had been occasional encounters between Inuit and whalers, the main European contact began in 1884 when members of the Canadian Hudson’s Bay Expedition operated an ice observation and meteorological station at Aniuvarjuaq for two years. Tarramiut began to trade frequently with observers posted at the station.

In 1897, Captain William Wakeham led an expedition to the area to determine whether Hudson Strait was safe for navigation and this gave the English name, “Wakeham Bay”, to Kangiqsujuaq.
Kangiqsujuaq was also the site of “Base C” of the 1927-29 Hudson Strait Expedition. Two Fokker Universal monoplanes conducted aerial ice surveys from here along with similar aircrafts flying out of Killiniq (Port Burwell) and Tutjat (Nottingham Island). One of the original expedition buildings is still in use today as the Roman Catholic Mission.

In 1910, Revillon Freres opened a trading post, followed four years later by the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1936, the Revillon Freres post closed, but a catholic mission was opened. In 1960 the first school was built, a nursing station opened the following year. Families in the outlying camps were then pressured by the federal government into moving to the community. An Anglican church was established in 1963 and in 1970 Kangiqsujuarmiut set up their co-operative store.

Kangiqsujuaq, which became known in English as Wakeham Bay, was renamed by the provincial government in 1961 as the settlement of Sainte-Anne-de-Maricourt. When the community became a municipality in 1979, it officially readopted its original Inuktitut name.