National park in Nunavut’s Kivalliq region gets management plan

Hard shelters, interpretative displays in works for fledgling Ukkusiksalik National Park

Nunavut's Ukkusiksalik National Park

Theoran Kopak sits on a boulder on a rocky shoreline at Tinittuttuq in Nunavut’s Ukkusiksalik National Park. (©Parks Canada/Jovan Simic)

By Nunatsiaq News

Nunavut’s Ukkusiksalik National Park now has a management plan.

The fledgling park, which surrounds Wager Bay in Nunavut’s Kivalliq region, was created in 2003 and officially opened in 2015.

The park is home to a historic Hudson’s Bay Company post in Douglas Harbour. Parks staff have done work over the last few years to clean up and stabilize the structure.

Some 450 cultural sites have been identified within the park, including the remains of sod houses, tent rings, caches, soapstone quarries and fish weirs. Many are along the lower reaches of the Piksimanik River, which was an important seasonal habitation area for Inuit before the creation of Nunavut’s modern communities.

During the winter, Inuit also inhabited the Savage Islands found inside Wager Bay, due to their closeness to a polynya. These islands were also home to a Catholic mission on Nuvudlik Island.

The park’s name, “Ukkusiksalik,” means “place where there is stone to carve pots and oil lamps.”

Old Hudson Bay Company buildings in Ukkusiksalik National Park, Nunavut

Old Hudson Bay Company buildings inside Ukkusiksalik National Park.

The park’s management plan, recently tabled in Parliament, says it “will be used as a tool for Inuit and Parks Canada to manage Ukkusiksalik cooperatively, for the next 10 years” and that “working with Inuit from the park’s adjacent communities is central to these strategies.”

Inuit from Naujaat and Coral Harbour having the closest historic ties to the park, Naujaat is the operational base for the park, with an office, garage and staff housing.

The management plan says that “considerable success has been made in hiring Inuit to manage the park,” and that “several staff members have close, historic ties to the park, with one staff having been born there.”

The park encompasses 20,885 square kilometres of what the plan calls a “beautiful but unforgiving landscape.” It’s unforgiving, in part, because of an abundance of polar bears.

For that reason, one target identified in the plan is to build hard-sided shelters for visitors to the park.

The plan also calls for interpretative displays to be created within five years for the park’s important cultural sites, including the Hudson’s Bay Company post, as well as the rock pillars at Aklungirtautitalik, where Inuit traditionally gathered to play rope games.

As well, an online digital tool is planned, to “present the park through virtual visits,” to be launched within four years.

Aklungirtautitalik (or Gate City) at Ukkusiksalik National park, Nunavut

Inuit traditionally gathered for rope games at these rock pillars at Aklungirtautitalik (or Gate City) at Ukkusiksalik National Park.

The plan maintains that, “together with the Thelon and Kazan Heritage Rivers, the park has the potential to be a major tourism attraction in the region.”

But, to date, “park visitation has been very low, with a total of seven visitors since the 2014-2015 fiscal year.”

The park’s remoteness, the high cost to get there, and its lack of infrastructure are all reasons offered by the plan for the low number of visits.

The area once did attract more visitors, when the Sila Lodge, on the shores of Wager Bay, operated for about 15 years, until the early 2000s. The plan says the lodge “attracted hundreds of visitors from around the world.”

Getting to the park isn’t easy. Charter flights can be arranged from Baker Lake or Rankin Inlet. Or it’s a seven-hour boat trip from the closest community.

As well, four snowmobile routes to the park have been identified: three from Naujaat, and one from communities to the south of the park. “As it is the case in other parks in Nunavut, only trips led by outfitters and Park Canada employees will be allowed to use over snow vehicles to access the park,” the report states.

Wager Bay is known for its impressive tides. “Entry into the park from Roes Welcome Sound into Wager Bay is possible, although a high degree of knowledge of the tides and currents is needed to navigate into the park safely,” the report states.

The channel that connects Ford Lake to Wager Bay features a set of reversing tidal rapids. The report warns that navigating this passage is “dangerous and is not recommended to unguided visitors.”

Cruise ship operations are unlikely to view the park as an attractive destination, in part due to the potential hazards of navigating in Wager Bay, said the report.

“Increasing high-end private sailboat, yacht, and luxury cruise ship visits indicate new niche market potential. However, Wager Bay and the park will likely only remain a curiosity until more nautical information about the area is available to sailors,” the report states.

The plan also calls for ecosystem monitoring within the park. To that end, parks staff are currently conducting a two-year research study to gather baseline data for Wager Bay.

Caribou at Ukkusiksalik National Park

Caribou at Ukkusiksalik National Park. (©Parks Canada/Jovan Simic)

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