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The Creation of Quttinirpaaq National Park -The Top of the World

For the week of Monday, September 12, 2011

On September 16, 1988, the federal government created the Ellesmere Island National Park Reserve. This site was composed of the northern section of Ellesmere Island in what was, at the time, the Northwest Territories (NWT). The park was the result of an agreement two years earlier, in 1986, between Parks Canada and the Government of the NWT. Following the creation of the Territory of Nunavut in 1999, the name of the park was changed to Quttinirpaaq National Park in 2001, to represent the traditional Inuit name for the area. This loosely translates to “top of the world.” Nunavut residents co-manage the park.

Polar dip in Lake Haven
© Parks Canada / W. Lynch / 1996
Quttinirpaaq has always been an important, if isolated, part of Canada’s North. Archaeological evidence shows that Independence people travelled within the region over 4000 years ago. In the last century, it has been used as a starting point for many expeditions to the Canadian North, and the structures of buildings constructed during these voyages remain today.

Quttinirpaaq holds many records in Canada. It contains the largest lake in the world north of 80º, Lake Hazen, and the highest point in eastern North America, at the top of Mount Barbeau. It is one of Canada’s largest national parks, second only to Wood Buffalo National Park.

The climate of Quttinirpaaq National Park is also unique due to its extreme conditions. The region is shrouded in darkness throughout the long winters, but during the four months of summer, the sun never sets! Most of the area is a ‘polar desert,’ as it receives roughly the same amount of precipitation as the Sahara Desert. The low temperatures keep the ground constantly frozen, and it is partly covered in gigantic glaciers. 

Peary caribou
© Parks Canada / 1983

Despite this harsh environment, many different animals, such as Arctic hares, polar bears, Peary caribou, muskoxen, and many types of bird, thrive in the region. While these animals have learned to migrate or adapt, they also rely on the large “Arctic oasis” near Lake Hazen. The warmer temperature and friendlier environment of this oasis region allow several kinds of edible plants to grow here.

Ellesmere Island National Park Reserve was created in 1988, and it officially became Quttinirpaaq National Park in 2001. The three huts of the Fort Conger Buildings were designated as a Classified Federal Heritage Building in 1991. These buildings were used as a base during the First International Polar Year 1882-83, a national historic event, by the crew of George Nares and by other explorers such as Robert Peary and Adolphus Greely.

This year, Parks Canada is celebrating its centennial. Celebrate with us by reading more about our national parks. For more information on Quttinirpaaq National Park, see its section on the Parks Canada website. For more This Week in History stories on Nunavut, please see the stories “Roadmaps of the North” and “Nunavut is launched!” in our archives.

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