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Southampton Plains

Southampton Plain

Southampton Island
Southampton Island
© Parks Canada


The world is transformed, within a week or two, from a silent expanse to a place of amazing activity and noise. Everywhere the sounds of mating birds mingle with the cracking of ice along the shore, the roar of swelling streams and the laughter of Eskimo children... Lemmings ... bask in the sun ... butterflies wander about, the green grass shoots up, the willow catkins expand and droop....

George Sutton,
naturalist and explorer,
1924, describing June on Southampton Island


This relatively small natural region includes part of Southampton Island, two other large islands and several smaller islands in the northern part of Hudson Bay. The combination of limestone and dolomite bedrock and dwarf arctic shrub vegetation makes this region distinct. The coastal plain is low lying with many small lakes, marshes, wet meadows and broad tidal flats. Raised beaches, evidence of higher sea levels in the past and the rebounding of the land after being released from the weight of the glaciers, parallel the coast.

Much of this region was flooded after the retreat of the glaciers, effectively obliterating glacial landforms except for a few scattered eskers. Inland are large limestone plateaux covered by frost-shattered rock where little life is found.

Coats Island
Coats Island
© Parks Canada


The barrens here are truly barren; large areas support only scattered clumps of the shrub dryas, its white blossoms brightening the shattered limestone that covers the ground. Much of the coast is devoid of vegetation. However, comparatively lush wet meadows of sedges and willows and rich tidal marshes occur where rivers enter the sea. Large grassy meadows also occur in the interior. In sheltered areas along river valleys, willows, the only "tree" occurring in this region, may reach two metres in height.

National Parks System Plan, 3rd Edition

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