Frobisher Bay Rich in Hospitality, Scenic Beauty


Left, the Frobisher Bay Elementary School,
where much of the week’s entertainment took place,
and the town’s domed Episcopalian Church.

It was mid-summer, Tundra blossoms were abundant on the windy hills surrounding this community nestled at the end of the bay. The air was cool and bright with arctic sunlight as the visitors began arriving by jets and planes from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Europe for the Third General Assembly of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference.

Delegates, alternates, observers, staff, entertainers, and journalists all came, increasing the population of Iqaluit (pop. 2400) by over 500. As the three local hotels filled up, the overflow was comfortably settled in local homes with families. Many local residents were out in hunting and fishing camps, but some returned to follow the debates and participate in the abundant festivities. It was a special celebration, a remarkable gathering of Inuit that no one would soon forget.

An Ancient Hunting Ground

Directly north of Montreal, and just across Davis Straits from Greenland, Frobisher Bay (Iqaluit) is rich in Inuit history. When English adventurer-pirate Martin Frobisher first entered the long inlet in 1576 (mistaking it for the Northwest Passage), it had been occupied by the Inuit for some 800 years. It was a rich hunting ground for seal, caribou, whale, and walrus, supporting a vigorous Inuit culture. Later, whalers, trappers, and explorers arrived, bringing European goods, alcohol, and disease.

The U.S. Army Air Force set up a base there during World War II to refuel planes flying across the Atlantic. Inuit people began moving in and settling around Iqaluit to get jobs.

In 1967, when Yellowknife became the capital of the Northwest Territories, Frobisher Bay was made the regional administrative center for the eastern Arctic, which now includes 20 Inuit communities in an area of 750,000 square miles. When Nunavuk becomes its own territory, Iqaluit will be the capital.

Although the people of Frobisher Bay were active in the campaign to stop the Arctic Pilot Project which would have brought gas tankers down Davis Straight, the town has already become the transportation hub for oil exploration activities in Davis Straight, which are expected to bring further changes to the community.

Frobisher Bay boasts a regional high school and has become an educational center connected with other communities via two-way video (the Inukshuk Project), the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, the bilingual weekly Nunatsiaq News, and CBC Northern Services, which operates a radio and TV studio there. The Baffin Regional Association (BRIA) and the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) provide effective structures for articulating community needs and preserving Inuit values.

Located at the western end of the bay, the town is surrounded by clear water streams and lakes. On the hills back of the own are a large oil-burning power plant, an imposing high-rise complex consisting of offices and apartments, shops, a public swimming pool, the Frobisher Inn, and the high school.

The two modern buildings housing the grammar and high schools seem to balloon up from the ground like giant space craft. With three feet of insulation in the walls, the schools can provide housing for the entire population in cases of winter power failures. Ample facilities for the ICC exhibits and business meetings were provided in the high school, while most of the evening entertainment took place in the grammar-school auditorium.

About three miles from Frobisher Bay is the village of Apex, where local residents provided Inuit tents completely furnished with bedding, lamps, and camp stoves for ICC participants who chose to camp out. About seven years ago, the government unsuccessfully tried to relocate the people of Apex into Frobisher Bay. Resisting this token attempt at “assimilation,” they held their ground, preferring their uncongested pastoral setting.

The ICC meeting in Frobisher Bay was an event that will not leave the Arctic — or Frobisher Bay — unchanged. What happened there brought the Inuit of the Arctic closer together, and things will never be the same.

Left: The town of Frobisher Bay, showing the yearly supply ship unloading. Below Frobisher: The Native village of Apex.
Jonah Kelly of Frobisher Bay, who was master of ceremonies for the week’s entertainment. The Savoonga Comedy Players doing a slapstick version of the Eskimo Nalukatak or blanket toss.