Located on the northern bank of the Innuksuak River, Inukjuak is known for its turquoise waters and brisk rapids. The surrounding landscape is marked by gently rolling hills and open spaces that endow it with a "silent beauty," in the words of local Inuit. Many archaeological sites scattered along the meandering river suggest that their ancestors felt no differently.
From the tundra, there is a splendid view of the village, the small port, the Hopewell Islands and Hudson Bay. In spring, ice from the mainland is forced by tides and currents through the rapids to create a spectacular field of immense, jostling chunks of ice.
In the early 20th century, the French fur-trading company, Révillon Frères, established an outpost there, named, at the time, Port Harrison. The Hudson's Bay Company opened its own trading post in 1920 and competition continued until 1936 when the HBC simply purchased Révillon Frères, continuing its monopoly until 1958.
The St. Thomas Anglican mission was founded in 1927 and the Federal Government soon followed by providing basic community services to the settlement. A post office and a Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment were inaugurated in 1935, a nursing station in 1947, and a school in 1951. In 1962, a cooperative store was opened. And in 1980, Inukjuak was legally constituted as a municipality.
This did not prevent local Inuit from maintaining their nomadic lifestyle throughout the surrounding area, however. Only during the 1950s did they begin to settle permanently.
Then tragedy struck. To the immense distress of its residents, a forcible relocation of Inuit from the Inukjuak area to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord 2,000 km to the north was enacted to create an artificial Canadian population in the High Arctic, the sole purpose being to address Canada's feared expansion of other northerly nations into the near-polar regions.
The forced exodus presupposed the Inuit's ability to quickly adapt to the exceptionally harsh conditions that prevailed in the area. Families were separated and many perished or suffered terribly. Only in 1996 did the Canadian government finally pay restitution to victims of the terrible blunder, and, even then, without offering a direct apology for the hardships they had imposed on their own citizens.
History, of course, cannot be reversed. But all Canadians will nonetheless remember the important role the Inuit of Nunavik played in establishing Canada’s arctic sovereignty.
The Daniel Weetaluktuk Museum houses a magnificent collection of Inuit arts and crafts, as well as traditional tools and hunting and fishing gear. The Innalik School lobby contains a permanent display of bas-relief sculptures depicting day-to-day life in the Inuit community. And if you visit the Hopewell Islands, you will observe the bustling summer nesting area of a variety of migratory birds.
Photo credit | Alexi Hobbs