Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Cape Dorset (Nunavut), an art capital on the Arctic Archipelago, part I

As I was writing this post, it became too long to publish in full just once. 
So I divided it in two, this is just a first part, in a few days the second part will appear.

Cape Dorset Inuit: Kinngait, high mountains) is situated on flat ground at Dorset Island, close to Foxe Peninsula at the southwestern tip of Baffin Island. Surrounded by arctic landscapes, Dorset Island supports many forms of arctic wildlife, including herds of caribou or, sometimes, a wandering polar bear or two, and in Summer arctic wildflowers dappling the tundra valleys with vivid colours.

The Inuit settlement of Cape Dorset became well known for its modern community's outstanding artists: graphic artists, weavers, carvers, that have made the small settlement an Inuit art capital.

Cape Dorset sits on the northwest shore of Dorset Island, surrounded on one side by rocky hills and on the other by the Hudson Strait.

Most houses are improved containers or wooden cabins, carefully insulated from permafrost.

Cape Dorset

Coordinates:  63° 22’ N, 90° 51’ W
Population:    ~1300

People keep traditional life patterns, namely hunting and fishing as main activities.

The Hotel (above) and Northern store (below) are two small luxuries in town.

Recently a wooden red gazebo was installed at a view point; it is an unusual landmark for such a northern community, but they love it.

It was installed for residents to better enjoy the community and for visitors to mingle with residents. The scenery, overlooking the sea inlet and more distant mountains, is beautiful from every direction, there is enough room there for children and adults to be walking around outside.

View to the harbour at sunset.

Life in the far North flows slowly, marked by light and darkness, water and ice, remoteness and tradition.

Mallik Island

Mallikjuaq, just a few miles Cape Dorset, is an island of rounded rock hills and low tundra valleys, notable for hosting an ancient Dorset archaeological site. A thousand years ago, the Thule people lived on Mallikjuaq in low stone houses framed with whalebone ribs, which were roofed with hides and sod. The eastern end of the island contains the remains of nine winter houses with stone foundations still in place. Archaeological evidence indicates that earlier people from the Dorset Culture also inhabited the island for centuries before the Thule.

Dorset Culture ('Tuniit' or 'Sivullirmiut'):  500 BC to 1500 AD
Thule Culture (Proto-Inuit):                   
1000 AD to 1600 AD
Inuit Culture (Eskimo):                         
1600 AD to present-day

Tips of recent History

From the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, whalers and missionaries visited the area. In 1913, the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) set up a trading post in Cape Dorset.

The settlement began to grow around it, Inuit people traded furs, tanned skins and ivory narwal tusks for supplies like kerosene, flour, tea and sugar. Between 1938 and 1953, Anglican and Roman Catholic missions were constructed in Cape Dorset. The first school and the first hospital ward were established in 1950.

By that time Cape Dorset started as a permanent settlement, and developped since then with health care, post office and co-op store, high school, airstrip and lounge...

The wreck of the Nascopie

One of the most historic and celebrated ships of the Hudson's Bay Company was the Royal Mail Ship Nascopie,  a 2500 ton steamer-icebreaker designed and built in England in 1911.

The RMS Nascopie started to make a yearly Arctic voyage, going farther and farther north, as far as Arctic Bay in 1926. At the time the Nascopie was the principal sea-lift resupply vessel used by the Hudsons Bay Company. The people in Cape Dorset used to celebrate the arrival of the Nascopie with fresh supplies, as they were happy go aboard and drink tea.

But in 1947, the Nascopie struck an uncharted reef and finished wrecked near Cape Dorset harbour.

Kananginak Pootoogook, "Aulajijakka" (Things I Remember): the wreck of the Nascopie.

NEXT: Part II - Dorset Fine Arts