Pond Inlet, Names and Choices

Taissumani: 2007-11-09

By Kenn Harper

Pond Inlet. Pond's Inlet. Pond's Bay.

Only one appears on today's map of the Arctic. Pond Inlet, now a community of over 1,000 people, almost all Inuit, living at the northern limit of Baffin Island, in the Canadian High Arctic. White men gave it the name it holds today. To the Inuit it is and always has been Mittimatalik.

A century ago – a short time in the memories of Inuit elders, for whom oral history brings events alive across generations – there was a different Pond. Separated by only a few miles from today's community, it was a place where cultures met, where a hunting lifestyle centuries old came into contact with white men in search of whales. Those white men called it and its surrounding area of land and water Pond's Inlet. To the Inuit, it and the mountain behind it is, and always has been, Igarjuaq.

Those same white men, Sikaatsi – Scottish whalers and traders – called the frigid water separating Baffin Island from Bylot Island to the north Pond's Bay. It was Pond's Bay that interested them, not the land to its north or south. Pond‘s Bay was a home of whales, and whales meant profit and a livelihood.

To the Inuit, this whole area was known as Tununiq, the land with its back to the sun, behind the mountains and vast expanse of Baffin Island that separated it from the more populated Inuit areas to the south. Harsh though it was, this was their homeland.

In 1903, an enterprising Scottish whaler, James Mutch, took the small whaling and trading ship, the Albert, to northern Baffin Island for the first time. After a winter at Erik Harbour, Mutch moved his ship to the protected harbor between the mainland and Beloeil Island, and named it Albert Harbour. With Inuit whom he had brought with him from Cumberland Sound, Mutch built a shore station, the first permanent trading station in the High Arctic, at Pond's Inlet, or Pond's Inlet Cove as it was sometimes known, a little to the west of the harbor. Over the next 18 years the trading station would pass through a number of hands. Mutch's employer, J. M. Mitchell, sold it to Robert Kinnes, another Scottish trader, who sold it to Captain Bernier, who in turn sold it to an eccentric Englishman, Henry Toke Munn, who ran a trading company with the unlikely name of Arctic Gold Exploration Syndicate.

But all that changed on August 29, 1921. On that day, the Hudson's Bay Company vessel, Baychimo, arrived unannounced in northern Baffin Island. The giant trading company had decided to expand its trading empire into the High Arctic.

The Bay chose a site for its post about 10 miles west of the trading station and Inuit camp called Pond's Inlet. They called it simply Pond Inlet. From this time onward, the focus of activity in northern Baffin Island shifted from Pond's Inlet of the whalers and free traders to Pond Inlet of the Hudson's Bay Company post and the community that has grown up around it. The term "Pond's Inlet" was largely abandoned and replaced with the modern "Pond Inlet".

The following year, the RCMP built a detachment at Pond Inlet. Staff Sgt. Joy had already been on site for a year – he had arrived with the Hudson's Bay men and shared their quarters for his first year there.

On a suggestion from Captain Bernier of the Arctic, expedition commander John Davidson Craig tried to convince Joy to build his police detachment at Albert Harbour; Joy‘s response was that, although it was cheerful and sunny there on that particular day, it was not always so. He wanted to build at Salmon River, which is "much more livable especially from a white man's standpoint." Craig deferred to Joy's experience. Because Iqarjuaq near Albert Harbour had always been known as Pond's Inlet, Craig referred to the Hudson's Bay Company post as Black Point, a point the Inuit called Qairsuarjuit. But Craig's suggestion didn't stick, and the site continued to be known as Pond Inlet (without an "s").

On September 6 Joy's plans were thwarted when the Arctic was unable to reach the Salmon River. Instead the ship put in at the Hudson's Bay Company post and the crew began the hurried task of putting supplies ashore for the construction of the police detachment. Around the trading post a small Inuit village had already begun to grow, "eight or ten tupeks, some wooden and others sealskin…" With the establishment of the police post close by the trading post, the site of future development in the area was irrevocable. Modern Pond Inlet had been established.

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