Restricted, with an Alcohol Education Committee (October 2014)* Click here for an update.
No bank branches. Light banking at Northern and Co-op stores, ATM at Co-op store (limited cash available). Interac and credit cards accepted at most retail outlets. Internet banking is recommended.
Telephone and Internet (limited bandwidth) services are available. Very limited cell phone service available.
Kinngait, meaning “mountains” in the Inuit language, has been occupied by Inuit since at least the time of the Dorset culture. This cultural period was given that name as a result of early archaeological excavations around the current settlement of Cape Dorset, with artifacts recovered going back 3,500 years. Oral history within the community suggests that today’s Inuit are descendants of the Thule people who inhabited the region following the Dorset people. The first European contact may have taken place as early as 1000 AD, as recent archaeological evidence along the coast between Cape Dorset and Kimmirut shows that Vikings likely travelled in the region about that time. The English official name of the location is attributed to explorer Luke Foxe, who travelled through the region in 1631 looking for the Northwest Passage. It is thought that he named the point after one of his sponsors, the Earl of Dorset of the day. Given the location of the community along Hudson Strait, visits by whalers were common during the 1800s and into the early 1900s.
The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established a trading post in 1913. Both the Catholic and Anglican missions were present in the area, although the Catholic mission that was established in 1938 was closed in 1960 because most of the residents attended Anglican worship. Important to Cape Dorset was the development of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in 1959, which helped to bring Inuit art to world attention.
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.
Cape Dorset Inuit have developed a pragmatic approach to the blending of Inuit and western culture, thanks to the community’s long exposure to European explorers, traders and whalers, and the world attention that was directed on local artists after the establishment of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative. The Inuit language and attachment to the land remain strong, and the promotion of Inuit culture through world-renowned art has made possible a stronger local cash economy than is available to many smaller or more isolated communities. The community regularly organizes festivals and community feasts. Cape Dorset also has an Anglican church, a Pentecostal church, and a Baha’ï House.
Inuktitut is the predominant language in Cape Dorset. You will hear it on the street and it is used regularly in daily life. In the 2011 census, 90% of Cape Dorset residents claimed Inuktitut as a mother tongue, and 85% speak Inuktitut as the language of the home. English is the mother tongue for 9%, and the remainder claim French or a handful of other languages. Almost 20% of the Inuktitut-speaking population does not speak either English or French, which means that, on occasion, newcomers or visitors need to find someone who speaks English to translate for them. You can expect most public events and meetings to be conducted in both Inuktitut and English, but you should not expect general Inuktitut conversations to be translated automatically because an English speaker is present. Inuktitut dialects vary widely across Nunavut, so if you have been speaking Inuktitut in another community, be prepared to learn dialectal differences and 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.
By Nunavut standards, Cape Dorset is a middle-size community, ranking 10th in population. The 2011 census counted 170 preschool and 360 school-age children, making 39% of the population under 18. Elders over 65 make up 4% of the population, and no one is over 85.
Although some other Nunavut communities might disagree, Cape Dorset identifies itself as “The Capital of Inuit Art.” Carving and graphic art are the mainstays of the Cape Dorset economy, with nearly 22% of the local workforce involved in visual art production. The Kinngait Co-op, still known in art circles as the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, forms the backbone of the arts community that has grown world-famous since James Houston’s arrival and encouragement of local artists in 1953. In addition to its arts industries, Cape Dorset has benefited by being one of the communities of Nunavut that is home to a number of decentralized offices for Government of Nunavut departments, including the transportation programs of the Department of Economic Development and Transportation, community development operations for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, and a number of Community and Government Services positions.
In addition to arts and crafts and the local government and services wage economy, a number of people in Cape Dorset still pursue traditional hunting and fishing activities. Tourism is also important, with Mallikjuak Territorial Park nearby providing opportunities for local outfitters and guides.
As in many Nunavut communities, there are no bank branches in Cape Dorset, and cash supplies can often become very limited. The Northern Store and the Co-op offer “light banking” services, which may include the ability to maintain a small cash account with the store, cash cheques, etc. There is an ATM at the Co-op, with a limited cash supply. Interac and credit cards are accepted at most retail outlets. It is highly recommended that newcomers establish Internet banking services and online methods of bill payment, particularly since postal service can often be delayed by weather disruptions to transportation.
The Cape Dorset area is rich in marine life. This includes seafood, such as Arctic char, clams and cold-water shrimp. Marine mammals also abound: beluga whales, right whales, killer whales, harbour seals, harp seals, bearded seals and walrus. Terrestrial mammals and birds include caribou, polar bears, foxes, wolves, Arctic hares, geese, ducks, and ptarmigan.
On the southwest coast of Baffin Island, Cape Dorset has, by Arctic standards, a moderate climate with a fair amount of precipitation. Winters are cold, with a daily average between -20ᵒC and -26ᵒC from December to February, with occasional dips into the -40ᵒC range, and 173 days a year under -10ᵒC. In the summertime, between June and August, temperatures are moderate, averaging 8-11ᵒC, and have been known on rare occasions to exceed 20ᵒC. Average precipitation in a year is 143.9 mm of rain and 296.4 cm of snow. It’s also breezy, with an average wind speed of 17 km/h through the year. Residents of Cape Dorset may experience several blizzards in a year, and wind chills in the -50ᵒC range may occur in winter months. Current weather conditions and forecasts for Cape Dorset are posted on the Environment Canada website.
People’s tolerance for cold varies with experience, but warm winter clothing is required for several months of every year. If you are moving to Nunavut, make sure you bring essential winter gear. Although you can sometimes purchase hand-made clothing, such as parkas and mitts from local seamstresses, their services are not always available, and commercial winter clothing and footwear may be in low supply in the local stores. Check- in with your principal or colleagues for their advice on practical winter gear to purchase and bring with you.
At 64 degrees latitude, Cape Dorset is “north of sixty” but not quite in the land of the midnight sun. Throughout the summer, the sun will skim just below the horizon, setting but leaving the land in a twilight state for three or four hours. In winter, the sun rises for a few brief hours at midday, with long dawn and twilight periods.
According to the 2011 Census, Cape Dorset has 355 occupied private dwellings, including 175 single detached houses, 25 semi-detached houses, and 150 row houses. The Nunavut Economic Developers Association website indicates that about 13% of these homes are privately owned. The remainder is made up of employer-provided rental housing or public housing. As housing in Nunavut is in short supply, ask your employer about the housing provisions of your employment and its cost. There is a possibility that you may be required to share housing with another colleague. You should also inquire into the appropriate housing insurance to acquire. If you have pets, the need for pet-friendly accommodation should be clearly indicated in any housing applications or documentation. You should also be aware that there is no veterinary service in Cape Dorset.
Water and sewage services, provided by the Hamlet, are supplied by trucked service. This means that you will have a water tank and a sewage tank in your home, which are filled up and pumped out respectively on a regular schedule. Contact the Hamlet for details. People on trucked service need to be conscious of their level of water consumption, as supplementary fees may be charged if you require a special fill-up or pump-out. The Hamlet also provides a garbage pick-up service. Most homes are heated with oil furnaces and the Co-op is the local heating fuel provider. Electrical power is supplied by Qulliq Energy’s local power plant. All telecommunications arrive in Nunavut via satellite. Telephone service is available only through NorthwesTel. Limited cellphone service is available, from some service providers only. If you are a cellphone user, check to see if your current provider includes Nunavut in its coverage. Internet service is available from the local service providers (Qiniq, NorthwesTel dial-up and NetKaster), with limited bandwidth capacity, or direct-to-home satellite (Xplornet), which requires special arrangements for satellite dish installation. Cable TV is provided by Kingait Cablevision and direct-to-home satellite TV by Bell Canada TV. See the contact list for telephone numbers and websites.
Local shopping and perishables are available from the Northern Store, Kinngait Co-operative, and the Co-op Mart Corner Store. Basic fresh staples, such as milk, bread, and some fresh produce, along with canned and dry goods, are normally stocked throughout the year, although shortages can occur if supply planes are delayed because of the weather. Store managers can sometimes order special items if they are requested. “Country food” (wildlife hunted or fished for food), such as caribou, fish or seal is not usually sold in these stores, but if you are interested you can sample these delicious and nutritious foods at community feasts and you may occasionally be able to obtain them from local hunters. Local arts and crafts are available for purchase from the Kinngait (formerly West Baffin Eskimo) Co-operative. See the contact list for phone numbers. In addition, local artists and artisans may sell their products from door to door, so be prepared for carvings, jewellery and fur mittens to be sold at your doorstep.
Food and supplies in Nunavut are generally expensive because of the added cost of shipping items north, despite the cost-of-living allowances paid by many employers, such as the Government of Nunavut’s Northern Allowance. Perishable items arrive by air freight, sea shipping lanes are open for only a brief period every year, and there are no highway links. Weather conditions also affect the arrival of planes, occasionally causing temporary shortages. If you have special dietary requirements (e.g., gluten-free, allergy-related, organic), you may wish to look into stocking up on particular supplies or identify sources that will ship north. You can find information about obtaining the food subsidies available for direct or personal orders under the Government of Canada’s Nutrition North program on its website. Many businesses will also ship items in unsubsidized food mail. Free shipping from iInternet-based suppliers often becomes an important consideration. Local residents can suggest favourite methods and suppliers for food and supplies that are not available in the community, including “country food” from other Nunavut communities.
Bulk supplies, large or heavy items (e.g., vehicles, furniture) and building supplies are usually brought in by annual sealift. The shipping season is short and orders must be placed with shipping marshalling deadlines in mind. The companies that provide this service in Cape Dorset are Nunavut Eastern Arctic Shipping and Nunavut Sealift and Supply. See the contact list for phone numbers and websites.
Cape Dorset is served by a Health Centre (also referred to as a Nursing Station), which is staffed by nurse practitioners. Basic medical care is provided, such as regular checkups, treatment of minor illnesses, and emergency first response. The number of nurses at the Health Centre reflects the size of the community. Cape Dorset has regular visits from community physicians, in addition to specialist and dentist visits. Regional services are provided through the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit, with support from hospitals in Ottawa. Those requiring specialist treatment are frequently sent to Iqaluit or “south” depending on the nature and seriousness of the complaint.
New residents of Nunavut are not immediately covered by Nunavut health care. You must be a resident of Nunavut for three months, with at least a one-year work contract, before you are eligible. You can download and complete the online Nunavut health card application, and mail the application along with the required documentation to the Department of Health after your three-month residency. Applications are also available at the Health Centre. It is very important that you have a Nunavut health card, because although your previous provincial or territorial health card may still cover your health expenses, it may not cover expenses such as medevacs (emergency chartered plane out of your community). If you intend to have family members or friends that are not residents of Nunavut visiting you, it is highly advised that they purchase medical insurance for the duration of their visit to cover expenses not typically covered by their province and territory. Under your employer’s health care benefits package you may also receive benefits for expenses, such as prescription drugs, dental services and eyeglasses. Check with your assigned Benefits Officer for details.
Pharmacies are located in Iqaluit, and although the Health Centre may supply some emergency prescriptions, the supplies on hand are limited. If you have a medical condition requiring ongoing prescriptions, you should make arrangements with a pharmacy to have your prescriptions sent to you. Be prepared to give sufficient time for your order to arrive, bearing in mind the method by which it will be sent and weather conditions.
A dentist visits Cape Dorset on a rotational schedule, with visits conducted in the elementary school. Demand to see the dentist is usually very high. An optical team also visits on a rotational schedule, checking eyes and dispensing eyeglasses. Check with the Health Centre for the availability of these services.
You can check online for more information about Nunavut’s health system.
Cape Dorset has airline service routed through Iqaluit with First Air and Canadian North. First Air also runs a route from Rankin to Iqaluit through several communities, including Cape Dorset. Service to Cape Dorset is not necessarily daily, and can change seasonally, so check with the airlines for up-to-date scheduling. See the contact list for phone numbers and websites. Because the airline market in Nunavut is small and specialized, costs are very high. Even if your initial relocation costs are covered by your employer, you should check prices before making personal travel plans.
Taxi service in town is currently provided by MJ Taxi and Kinngait Taxi Ltd. Please see the contact list for contact information. The availability of taxi services is variable, so you should be prepared to walk or to make alternate arrangements for transportation. Many people get around on snowmobiles in the winter and all-terrain vehicles in the summer, but private vehicles brought up on the annual sealift are becoming increasingly common. Garage services for private vehicles are limited, however.
Recreational facilities managed by the Hamlet include a community hall, an arena and swimming pool, the Aupaluktuk Park outdoor rink and playgrounds. School gymnasiums are also used for recreation. Hunting and fishing are favourite local activities. Hunting and fishing regulations differ for residents who are or are not beneficiaries under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. If you plan to participate in these activities, contact the local GN Wildlife Management Office for any necessary licenses or wildlife tags.
Local outfitters offer boat, dogsled, snowmobile, walking and hiking tours. It is a 45-minute walk to Mallikjuak Territorial Park.
The Hamlet of Cape Dorset organizes a number of community events, such as Christmas and New Year’s holiday celebrations, which include Inuit games on the sea ice and at the community hall, snowmobile parades and races, radio contests, square dancing, and community feasts over the holiday season. Canada Day festivities are held on July 1, and Nunavut Day festivities on July 9, to celebrate the date of the signing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. Hamlet Day is held in April to commemorate the formal establishment of Cape Dorset as a Hamlet in 1982.
Under the Nunavut Liquor Act and Regulations, Cape Dorset is a Restricted community, with an Alcohol Education Committee (AEC). This means the AEC determines how alcohol is controlled and consumed in the community. The AEC is a community-based group created by regulation under the Liquor Act. The members are elected at the same time Hamlet councillors are elected. The committee’s mandate is to educate the community on how to prevent alcohol abuse. In general, the AEC controls and approves how much alcohol an individual can bring into the community. Contact the Hamlet office for current information. The Government of Nunavut’s Department of Finance is responsible for overseeing alcohol control and distribution in Nunavut, and you can also consult its website for more information about the system.