Kekerten Island Whaling Station National Historic Site of Canada

Kekerten Island, Nunavut
Historic image of a whaling station house at the Kekerten Island Whaling Station, 1897. © Library and Archives Canada \ Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, G. Drinkwater, C-084687, 1897.
Historic image
© Library and Archives Canada \ Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, G. Drinkwater, C-084687, 1897.
General view of the Kekerten Island Whaling Station showing remnants of a bowhead whale, 1999. © Natural Resources Canada \ Ressources naturelles Canada, 1999.Historic image of a whaling station house at the Kekerten Island Whaling Station, 1897. © Library and Archives Canada \ Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, G. Drinkwater, C-084687, 1897.
Address : Cumberland Sound, Kekerten Island, Nunavut

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1985-06-17
  • 1857 to 1857 (Construction)
  • 1857 to 1923 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • William Penny  (Person)
  • American Whalers  (People, group)
  • Scottish Whalers  (People, group)
  • Inuit  (People, group)
Other Name(s):
  • Kekerten Island Whaling Station  (Designation Name)
  • Qikiqtaq  (Other Name)
  • Kikastan Islands  (Other Name)
Research Report Number: 1983-040, 1984-054, 2009-CED-SDC-034

Description of Historic Place

Kekerten Island Whaling Station is located in northern Cumberland Sound, in Kekerten Harbour, Nunavut. In the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, the site is spread across three islands, and comprises the remains of a whaling station, as well as a burial ground and a shipwreck. The grassy slopes adjacent to the sheltered harbour served as three hilltop lookouts for signs of whale activity, and were located between the shoreline and the rocky high ground to the south. Official recognition refers to the four nodes, which together make up the site.

Heritage Value

The Kekerten Island Whaling Station was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1985 because: it represents whaling in the eastern Arctic as one of the most important and long lasting whaling station and vessel-wintering sites in Cumberland Sound during the second half of the 19th century; it represents the impact of the whaling industry on the economy and culture of the Inuit in Cumberland Sound.

Kekerten Island was the site of two adjacent whaling outposts, operated by Americans and Scots, in the latter half of the 19th century. Along with Blacklead Island, it was the most important whaling station in the Cumberland Sound from between 1860 to 1880, during the height of Bowhead whaling. The sloped terrain and rocky high ground offered good lookout posts from which the Sound could be surveyed for signs of whales. Whalers who died at the station were buried in the nearby Penny’s Burying Ground.

The ship-wintering site attracted many of the aboriginal inhabitants from the surrounding area, and the culture of the Inuit became adapted more and more to the rhythm of the whaler’s year. The ships’ captains assumed responsibility for providing imported provisions for hired Inuit and their families, and the trading of firearms, ammunition, telescopes and even whaleboats became an important event at the end of the whaling season. Kekerten was abandoned around 1923 after a decline of whaling and Inuit activity at Kekerten Station in favour of nearby Pangnirtung, an outpost established by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 1985, 2009.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include: its location in Kekerten Harbour at the north end of the Cumberland Sound; its setting in various locations, including on grassy hills and a sheltered harbour; any surviving elements of interior features that remain in situ; the viewscapes to and from the various locations of the site.

The integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains, which may be found within the site in their original placement and extent, specifically: any remains from the Whaling Stations, lookouts, and burying grounds, including foundations, Inuit dwellings including quamuks, coal scatterings, try-pots, remains of a wooden spillway, ship parts, barrel hoops, a flag pole, grave markers, and other cultural remains; any remains from Miliakdjuin Island, including barrel hoops, tent rings, kayak rests, meat caches, whale bones, and various detritus associated with whaling; any remains at Union Harbour (also known as Mitilnarbing), including graves markers, ceramics, barrel hoops, a shoe, and other cultural remains; any grave markers, including those at Penny’s Burying Ground; any surviving traces of the wreck at Tuapain in Arctic Harbour which may be found underwater in their original placement and extent.