Kimmirut * [pop: under 500]
by Robert Jaffray
Houses usually face the water instead of the street so residents can keep an eye on the comings and goings of hunters and fishermen. Children play “Inuit baseball,” where the runner runs the opposite direction from southern style baseball and can be tagged out by a thrown ball. Young girls attend to baby siblings by carrying them in an amauti, a hooded woman’s parka.
Most Kimmirut residents are carvers, and you can often watch them make their living with grinder and file outside their homes. But economic realities also require them to work in the wage economy for one of the local retail stores, the hamlet, or territorial government. In addition, virtually everyone participates in the traditional economy of hunting and fishing, a vital link between the old and new.
There is a long history of human presence in the area around Kimmirut
( pronounced “Kim-mi-root” ). Archeological remains indicate people have occupied the region for some 4,000 years; evidence of Thule, Dorset and Pre-Dorset cultures is scattered throughout the area.
First contact with Europeans came in the 17th century when Hudson’s Bay Co. supply ships travelling through the Hudson Strait began trading with the Inuit. Contact intensified in 1860 with the arrival of American and Scottish whalers. When Robert Kinnes of the Scottish-owned Tay Whaler Fishing Company established a mica mine nearby, it drew Inuit to the area. In 1900 the Anglican Church established its second mission on Baffin Island, building a mission house across the bay from today’s community. Hoping to capitalize on the abundant white fox population and the growing dependence of Inuit on non-traditional goods, the Hudson’s Bay Co. erected Baffin Island’s first trading post here in 1911. An RCMP post was established on the east side of Glasgow Inlet in 1927.
Until a U.S. army base arrived in Frobisher Bay in 1945, Kimmirut (known until recently as Lake Harbour) was the administrative centre for South Baffin. RCMP officers from the Lake Harbour post patrolled as far north as Pangnirtung, west beyond Cape Dorset, and all the camps around the Hudson’s Bay Co. post of Frobisher Bay. After the jet runway was built at Frobisher Bay (now called Iqaluit – the capital of Nunavut) , focus began to shift away from Lake Harbour and towards Nunavut’s future capital, Iqaluit.
The community continued to grow, however. A federal school was established in the 1950’s, and a government-administered nursing station soon followed.
Kimmirut: Its Land and Wildlife
Kimmirut is situated beside the ocean at the northern extremity of Glasgow Inlet, part of a larger body of water known as North Bay. About 60 metres across the water lies the landmark for which the community is named – a kimmirut (heel), a rocky outcrop that resembles a human heel.
Visitors to Kimmirut will get a crash course in tidal action if they are here for more than a few hours. Tides, which are sometimes greater than 11 metres, are strikingly apparent as the water level rises and falls along the sheers rock face of the heel. In winter, very low tides sometimes pull the ice down far enough to reveal a dazzling ice wall more than 10 metres high.
The bulk of the town stretches along the narrow strip of land that runs north/south along the ocean. Recent housing additions dot surrounding hills. Most of the community’s commercial ventures are in the older section of town. Here you’ll find the hamlet administration, school, retail stores and visitor services. A few home-run businesses are located ‘uptown,’ as are the airport and municipal services garage.
It is not uncommon to walk within minutes of the community and see caribou lope across your path. Equally common are tiny lemmings that dart from rock to rock.
Seagulls frequent the area; ravens talk to you from their perches overhead. On a calm summer day, a seal may pop its inquisitive head out of the water or a beluga whale may find its way into a nearby bay. On rare occasions, polar bears have come into the community.
Throughout the community and surrounding hillsides you’ll find abundant and varied flora. Dwarf fireweed, white heather and arctic poppies add a delightful touch of color throughout the summer. You may even see dandelions in some areas, their growth fostered by a climate warmer than any other on Baffin Island.
*Reproduced from the Nunavut Handbook