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Baker Lake

Baker Lake

Region: 
Kivalliq School Operations (KSO)

Community

About
History: 

Baker Lake owes its location to the fact that it has been a gathering place for summer hunting and fishing since prehistoric times, and that many traditional transportation routes inland or to Hudson Bay pass through the area. Nunavut’s only inland community, Baker Lake is called Qamani’tuaq by Inuit, meaning “a huge widening of a river.” It received its English name after a visit from Captain Christopher of the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1762, who named the lake after Sir William Baker, one of the company’s governors.

Because of the area’s importance as a gathering place, the Hudson’s Bay Company set up a trading post there in 1916 and Revillon Frères in 1924. Both the Church of England and Catholic Church established missions there in 1927. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police established a post in 1930, although the RCMP was present in the area for many years by this point. In 1936, the Hudson’s Bay Company bought out Revillon Frères, consolidating operations by moving its post from Ookpiktuyuk Island to the mainland, the current location of the community. In the late 1940s the federal government constructed a weather station, and in the 1950s it built a hospital and a regional school. During the 1950s, the shortage of caribou in the region, the main staple of many of the family camps, led the federal government to relocate family camps to the settlement location. As a result, the Inuit community represents an amalgam of different groups of people from the broader region. The Hamlet website provides a thorough overview of Baker Lake’s history and its Inuit heritage.

The Government of Nunavut (GN) Employee Orientation website offers an excellent collection of material on the general history of Nunavut, together with an overview of Inuit culture and history and an explanation of how Inuit cultural principles are being incorporated into government operations and services. We recommend exploring this site once it is available again after their restructuring, for now you can try the general GN site for information.

Culture: 

In an effort to preserve and promote Inuit language, local history and culture, local residents have formed Qatqamiut Baker Lake Historical Society, which runs a traditional summer camp every year. An Inuit family maintains the camp through the summer and they demonstrate traditional skills to interested visitors. Baker Lake is also home to the Akumalik Visitors’ Centre, which is located in the original HBC post on the waterfront. In the summer months it serves as a local museum and tourism information centre. At the request of local Elders, Baker Lake also has its Inuit Heritage Centre, a museum that interprets the traditional lifestyle of the inland Inuit. Three Christian denominations have churches in Baker Lake: Anglican, Roman Catholic and Glad Tidings. There is also a Baha’ï House. See the contact list for phone numbers.

Baker Lake lies in the traditional lands of the Caribou Inuit, the only inland Inuit in Canada. A long history of contact with Europeans and resource seekers may have contributed to the current language situation, which in the 2011 Census showed more language diversity than in many Nunavut communities. Inuktitut is the mother tongue of the majority of Baker Lake residents: 64% claimed Inuktitut as a mother tongue in the 2011 Census, 35% said English, and a few said French. However, most of the population, 96%, speaks English, around 2% can speak English and French, and 4% can speak only Inuktitut. At home, Inuktitut is the language of preference for 28%, and English for 72%. Inuktitut dialects vary widely across Nunavut, so if you have been speaking Inuktitut in another community, be prepared to learn dialectal differences and perhaps to have local residents correct your usage. The Inuit language (Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun), English and French are all official languages of Nunavut, so you have the right to request government services in the official language of your choice.

Baker Lake falls into a group of medium-size Nunavut communities. According to the 2011 Census, it currently stands fourth in population size, at around 1900 residents. Although the population is young by Canadian standards, it is one of the Nunavut communities with a slightly older population. The 2011 Census counted 225 preschool and 500 school-age children, making 39% of the population under the age of 18. The median age is 22, and 5% of the population is over 65.

Economy: 

Baker Lake enjoys a fairly diversified economy, including employment in government and local services, the mining industry, arts and crafts, and tourism, as well as traditional subsistence hunting and fishing. Baker Lake is one of the communities benefiting from the economic stimulus of decentralized Government of Nunavut offices. It is the location of corporate services offices for the Qulliq Energy Corporation (the territory’s electrical power supplier), the headquarters for Nunavut Public Library Services, and offices of sport and recreation. It is also the home for Kivalliq School Operations, which oversees the region’s schools. Mineral resources are now adding significantly to the local economy, with the nearby Meadowbank gold mine offering current employment and the proposed Kiggavik uranium mine in the process of development.

Baker Lake is world famous for its arts and crafts. In the 1950s, a group of Baker Lake artists was in the forefront of developing Arctic printmaking from carved soapstone plates. Embroidered duffle wall hangings are also well known, exemplified by the work of Jessie Oonark. Local artists carve in black soapstone and seamstresses create unique pieces of traditional and modern clothing. Saviirsgayak Society Inuit Jewellery and Metalwork studio members produce fine jewellery. There are several retail outlets for arts and crafts listed on the Baker Lake Arts website. Tourism and related cultural industries are also significant. Many visitors employ local outfitters and guides for hunting and fishing expeditions.

A First Nations bank kiosk is located in the Co-op store. The Northern and Co-op stores offer “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store, cash cheques, etc. Interac and credit card services are available at most retail stores. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly because postal service can often be delayed if bad weather disrupts transportation.

Wildlife: 

The area around Baker Lake is home to many barren-ground species: muskox, white wolves, moose, barren-ground grizzly, wolverine, gyrfalcons, peregrine falcons and more than 10,000 moulting Canada geese, plus 60 species of birds. The barren grounds are most noted, however, for their migrating caribou herds: the 275,000 strong Beverly caribou herd, which crosses the Thelon river in large groupings at a number of spots during the herd’s annual migration, and the 500,000 strong Qamanirjuaq caribou herd, which migrates through the Kazan River area. Lakes hold lake trout and grayling. Farther to the west, halfway between Baker Lake and Yellowknife, lies the 52,000 sq km Thelon Wildlife Sanctuary, established in 1927 to protect muskox.

Insect life is also abundant in the summer months, particularly mosquitoes and black flies, so effective bug repellent and insect-proof clothing is essential.

Further Reading: 
  • Art and Cold Cash Collective. Art and cold cash = ᓴᓇᖑᐊᒐᐃᑦ ᐱᖑᐊᒐᐃᑦ ᑮᓇᐅᔭᓪᓗᕖᓪᓗ. Toronto: XYZ Books, 2009.
  • Bennett, John & Susan Rowley, eds. Uqalurait: an oral history of Nunavut. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.
  • Dorais, Louis-Jacques. The language of the Inuit: syntax, semantics and society in the Arctic. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.
  • Eber, Dorothy Harley. When the whalers were up North. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1989
  • Fossett, Renee. In order to live untroubled: Inuit of the Central Arctic, 1550-1940. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2001.
  • Issenman, Betty Kobayashi. Sinews of Survival: the living legacy of Inuit clothing. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997.
  • MacDonald, John. The Arctic sky: Inuit astronomy, star lore and legend. Iqaluit & Toronto: Nunavut Research Institute and Royal Ontario Museum, 1998.
  • McGhee, Robert. The last imaginary place: a human history of the Arctic world. Toronto: Key Porter Books, Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2004.
  • Morrison, David and Georges-Hébert Germain. Inuit: glimpses of an Arctic past. Hull: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1995.
  • Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. The Inuit way: a guide to Inuit culture, rev. ed. Ottawa: Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 2006. http://www.uqar.ca/files/boreas/inuitway_e.pdf
  • Tookoome, Simon, with Sheldon Oberman: The shaman’s nephew: a life in the far north. Toronto: Stoddart Kids, 1999.
  • Tulurialik, Ruth Annaqtuusi and David F. Pelly: Qikaaluktut: images of Inuit life. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1988.