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Western Artic Lowlands



"Here I stand
Surrounded with great joy,
For the spirit of the air
Lets glorious food sink down to me,
Here I stand"

song recorded on Victoria Island
by the Fifth Thule Expedition, 1924


Low-lying, barren islands in the southwestern Arctic Archipelago distinguish this region. Victoria Island, the largest, is bigger than the four Atlantic provinces combined. The coastlines of these islands range from extensive lowlands to spectacular cliffs. Most of the area has been affected by the recent passage of the continental ice sheets. Fields of drumlins on southern Victoria Island impart a regular but complex "grain" that contrasts with the flat horizon of adjacent lowlands. Patches of undulating moraines, which appear from the air to be like gargantuan ploughed fields, break up vast plains where sinuous eskers provide the only vertical relief.

Upland plateaux cut up into an Arctic version of badlands contrast with areas where nothing but broken limestone, sand and gravel are to be seen. Coal seams blacken the hills on Banks Island and loose chunks of coal are scattered on the beaches.

Thomsen River, Banks Island
Thomsen River, Banks Island


Most of this region is sparsely vegetated, with vast seemingly lifeless areas. Wet sites, however, have a heavy cover of sedges, cottongrass, mosses and saxifrages. In the southern fringes of the region, the thawed layer above the permafrost supports a thick layer of dwarf tundra shrubs. Dwarf birch, willow and alder can reach two metres in height. In windswept areas, trees - some as old as 400 years - grow horizontally, their branches twisted and convoluted and never rising more than a few centimetres above the soil.

National Parks System Plan, 3rd Edition

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