Geologically, Baffin Island is a continuation of the eastern edge of the Canadian SHIELD, which tilts upward in the east to form a mountainous spine, sloping away into plateaus and lowlands in the west. Its east coast is deeply indented by CUMBERLAND SOUND and FROBISHER BAY. A desolate plateau in the north comprises Brodeur and Borden peninsulas, separated by Admiralty Inlet - thought to be one of the world's largest FJORDS. From south of the Hantzsch River to Foxe Peninsula is the remarkable Great Plain of the Koukdjuak, consisting of a coastal strip of flat, grassy marshland and a slightly higher plain showing a series of old beaches. The Foxe Peninsula is rocky in the south and drops over dramatic bluffs to the sea on the west coast. There are numerous freshwater lakes on the island, including NETTILLING (5542 km2) and AMADJUAK (3115 km2).
Baffin Bay is the wintering ground for NARWHAL, WALRUS, BELUGA and bowhead whales, and bearded and harp seals. The island is the nesting ground for millions of birds: thick-billed murres, kittiwakes and fulmars. The Dewey Soper migratory BIRD SANCTUARY protects the summer nesting area for some 2 million migratory birds.
Early Settlement and Development
Around 2000 BC the PRE-DORSET CULTURE began to establish themselves in northern Baffin Island. These people were succeeded by the DORSET CULTURE, so named because the first physical evidence of this culture was found near CAPE DORSET off the island's southwestern coast. Between the 11th and 13th centuries the THULE spread over the island displacing the Dorset.
Baffin Island was probably visited by NORSE seafarers at the turn of the 11th century, and is likely the Helluland of the Viking sagas. Martin FROBISHER reached the island in 1576 and met the descendants of the Thule, the BAFFIN ISLAND INUIT. He made 2 more voyages (1577 and 1578), carting back loads of worthless ore he thought was gold. John DAVIS led 3 expeditions to the area (1585, 1586, 1587), each taking him to Cumberland Sound; William BAFFIN, for whom the island is named, charted the east coast in 1616; and Luke FOX penetrated Foxe Channel in 1631.
But the island's bays and fjords continued to perplex navigators seeking a NORTHWEST PASSAGE, and Baffin Bay was not rediscovered until 1818. Sir William PARRY explored the west coast in 1821-23. He was followed by Scottish and New England whalers who established WHALING stations in Cumberland Sound (on Kekerten and Blacklead islands) in the late 1850s. Sailors' graves and relics of the whaling, which lasted until the early 20th century, have been uncovered at Kivitoo on the Davis Coast. The Anglican Church set up missions at the whaling stations and the Hudson's Bay Company established its first post on the island at Lake Harbour (now KIMMIRUT) in 1911.
German scientists built a meteorological station on Kingua Fjord (now Clearwater Fjord) at the head of Cumberland Sound in 1882-83. Franz BOAS wintered at Kekertuk in the winter of 1883-84 and was able to sketch a reasonably accurate map of the whole island. Robert BELL was the first to do a Canadian survey, which took him along the southern coast in 1897. Joseph-Elzéar BERNIER wintered at Pond Inlet in 1906-07 and ARCTIC BAY in 1910. From 1909 until his death, Bernhard HANTZSCH surveyed the interior of southern Baffin Island and the Foxe Basin coast. He died at his base camp at the mouth of the river that now bears his name.
At the head of Frobisher Bay on the southern part of the island lies the capital of Nunavut, IQALUIT. Significant quantities of lead, zinc and silver were mined at NANISIVIK (1976-2002) and shipped to smelters in southern Canada. The hamlet of PANGNIRTUNG is the southern gateway to AUYUITTUQ NATIONAL PARK, Canada's first national park north above the Arctic Circle; the hamlet of QIKIQTARJUAQ is the park's northern gateway. The park contains some of the island's most spectacular scenery, including Pangnirtung Pass - a 100 km U-shaped trench - glaciers, lakes, waterfalls and the 2143 m peak Mount Odin. Much of SIRMILIK NATIONAL PARK, on the northwestern part of the island, is covered in glaciers, hence its Inuktituk name. The park can be reached from Pond Inlet and Arctic Bay.
There are also a number of provincial and historical parks on Baffin Island including Kekerten, KATANNILIK, Sylvia Grinnell, Mallikjuaq (featuring Dorset Culture sites) and Qaummaarviit (featuring Thule sites). CLYDE RIVER lies on the island's northeastern coast, which is heavily indented with fjords. The hamlet is becoming a staging area for adventurers attracted to the area's fjords, particularly the sheer cliffs of Sam Ford Fjord.
Author JAMES MARSH
Links to Other Sites
Government of Nunavut
Your source for information about Government of Nunavut programs, regional tourism and local business opportunities. Also check out the links to Inuktitut language resources.
Sea Ice Climatic Atlas for the Northern Canadian Waters
A basic overview of factors affecting ice in the sea. Click on right side menu for related maps and charts. From Environment Canada.
Exploration of the Northwest Passage
An overview of European expeditions to Canada’s northern Arctic region from the 16th to the early 20th centuries. Brief bios, illustrations, maps, and other reference material. An Industry Canada website.
Maps of provinces and territories from "The Atlas of Canada," Natural Resources Canada.
Sirmilik National Park
This illustrated Parks Canada website offers information about the ecology, geography, and history of Sirmilik National Park.
City of Iqaluit
This is the website for the City of Iqaluit, the Capital City of Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut.
An overview of the physical, oceanographic, and ecological characteristics of the Hudson/Boothian Ecoregion in the Arctic. From the website for the North American Marine Protected Areas Network.
A brief overview of the geographical features of Foxe Basin, a Parks Canada National Marine Conservation Area.
Ecological Studies and Environmental Monitoring at Bylot Island, Sirmilik National Park
An overview of the Bylot Island research project, one of the largest and longest ecological studies in Nunavut. Beautiful photos of the spectacular landscape and indigenous wildlife. A Laval University website.
Plan your next Arctic adventure at this Nunavut Tourism website. Offers information about local communities, history and culture, recreational opportunities, and much more.
Take a helicopter flight over the Barnes ice cap, part of the visual tour of Southwest Baffin Island. From the website for the Tukilik Foundation.
Narwhal cull approaches 600 near Pond Inlet
A CBC article about the harvesting of narwhals trapped in the sea ice near the community of Pond Inlet.
The website for Arctic Mission, a scientific voyage through the Arctic’s fabled North-West Passage. Features interactive maps, videos, photos and written observations about the landscape, climate, and wildlife that inhabit this region. From the National Film Board.
Tricky Mantle: Intact Pocket of Ancient Earth May Have Escaped Mixing for 4.5 Billion Years
An article about the geological significance of primordial lavas found on Baffin Island in the Arctic. From Scientific American.
Ottawa to establish Arctic marine sanctuary
A news story about the establishment of an Arctic marine sanctuary in Lancaster Sound, off the coast of Baffin Island in Nunavut. From nunatsiaqonline.ca.
Check out Sikunews for daily coverage of the top stories around the circumpolar world. Search for news items about specific issues and locations in the Canadian Arctic.
Evidence of Viking Outpost Found in Canada
An article about archaeological evidence pointing to the presence of a Viking camp on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. From the National Geographic website.
Unusual volcanic episode rapidly triggered Little Ice Age, researchers find
An article about a research project that probed the cause of the "Little Ice Age," a prolonged cold period that started in the 14th century. Included field work on Baffin Island. From the website for the American Geophysical Union.