Kodlunarn Island National Historic Site of Canada

Kodlunarn Island, Frobisher Bay, Nunavut
Address : Kodlunarn Island, Frobisher Bay, Nunavut

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1964-10-27
  • 1576 to 1578 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Martin Frobisher  (Person)
Other Name(s):
  • Kodlunarn Island  (Designation Name)
  • Frobisher Site  (Other Name)
  • Countess of Warwick Island  (Other Name)
  • Meta Incognita  (Other Name)
  • Qallunaan (White Man's Island)  (Other Name)


Approved Inscription:  Nunavut

From this island and the nearby shores in 1577-78 the Elizabethan adventurer Martin Frobisher and his companions carried home to England over 1,500 tons of what they mistook for gold ore. Nearly three centuries later, in 1861, the site was “rediscovered” by the American explorer, Charles Francis Hall. He was led here to the remains of Frobisher’s mines by local Inuit whose traditions had preserved, with remarkable accuracy, the memory of the first European attempt to exploit the natural resources of the Canadian Arctic.

Description of Historic Place

Kodlunarn Island National Historic Site of Canada is situated on Kodlunarn Island in Frobisher Bay, 190 km from Iqaluit. Ruins of a stone house, earthworks and mining excavations created during Elizabethan explorer Martin Frobisher’s gold mining expeditions can still be seen on its shores. Official recognition refers to the island, delimited by the shoreline and including the low tide mark.

Heritage Value

Kodlunarn Island was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1964. It is recognized because: it is associated with Martin Frobisher’s "gold mining" activities in Frobisher Bay in 1576, 1577 and 1578.

The heritage value of Kodlunarn Island National Historic Site of Canada lies in its association with the mining attempts of Martin Frobisher as illustrated by the site and the archaeological evidence it retains to confirm Frobisher’s 16th-century presence and activities. Evidence also survives in the oral traditions of the Inuit people who have preserved an account of this first European attempt to exploit the natural resources of the Arctic.

Kodlunarn Island was the site of mining expeditions by British explorer Martin Frobisher during the summers of 1576, 1577, and 1578. Like his predecessor John Cabot, Frobisher was searching for a northwest passage when he found what he thought was gold. His vessels returned to the Arctic for three consecutive years to remove some 1400 tons of worthless ore from several mines. They remained for a period of four to five weeks each of year, exploring the area and making landfalls to extract ore. One of the major sites they visited was Kodlunarn Island, also known as Qallunaat, White Man’s Island, and Countess of Warwick Island, where Frobisher planned to leave a large party to mine during the winter of 1578-79. Although his plan was never realized, he did build a stone house for accommodation. Today the ruins of this house together with various excavations, earthworks and scattered artifacts remain on the island. Archaeological expeditions carried out preliminary surveys of the locations related to Frobisher on this island in the 1970s and 1980s.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 1976.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that contribute to the heritage value of this site include: the location of the island in Frobisher Bay; the island’s topography in its form and extent; the integrity of artifacts and sites on the island related to Frobisher, including remains of the ship’s trench, the industrial area, the reservoir trench, Frobisher’s house, and other remains from the 1576-1578 period; the spatial relationship of in situ artifacts and sites; the as-found forms and materials of artifacts removed from the site; the associated knowledge embodied in Inuit oral traditions and practices related to this site.