Great Canadian Parks / Nunavut

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The Parks / Nunavut / Ellesmere Island National Park




The earliest inhabitants arrived about 4 000 years ago, probably emigrating from Siberia at a time when a land passage existed to what is now Alaska. The remote and desolate polar desert must have tested the endurance of these migratory hunters who seem to have all but disappeared after a few centuries. As late as 2500 years ago however, remains of camping sites at Lake Hazen bespeak a second wave of nomadic people, who traveled across the arctic islands relying on the muskox and caribou for food, clothes, and weapons. The Dorset people whose greater success was due in part to improved methods of hunting sea mammals replaced this second group. Sometime later in this period, about 1000 years ago, the ancestors of present-day Inuit, the Thules, came from Alaska where their ancestors had developed a sophisticated technology and rich economy based on the hunting of sea mammals from boats. They had dog sleds for land travel, kayaks for hunting, and umiaks that could be used to hunt whales or move an entire village by sea. The Norse who had established colonies in Greenland, no doubt encountered the Thule Inuit and, although hostilities must naturally have arisen, artifacts tell a story of much trading between these quite worldly inhabitants of their arctic domains.

 




Sir George Nares, who built a base camp on the northeastern coast on a low mud ledge overlooking Discovery Harbour, conducted one of the earliest explorations in 1875-76. In 1880, an American station, Fort Conger, was built on Nares® former base, to dispatch planned scientific projects on Ellesmere Island. It was here that Lieutenant Adolphus Greely, the expedition leader, made his fateful decision to take his starving crew south in open boats to meet a long overdue supply ship. Only seven men survived. Fifteen years later, Robert Peary refitted the camp with three crude wooden huts, digging them into the side of a ridge where they remain today, a living museum under the protection of the park reserve. His attempts to reach the North Pole (1898-1909) were greatly assisted by survival techniques learned from the Inuit who accompanied him and his successors.

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