Ukkusiksalik National Park is closest to Chesterfield Inlet. It covers an area of 20,885 km2 (8,064 sq mi), a bit smaller than El Salvador. It was established in 2003.
Its name relates to steatite found there: Ukkusiksalik means "where there is material for the stone pot" (from ukkusik, meaning pot or saucepan like qulliq).
- Park office, ☏ , toll-free: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org.
The park is uninhabited now, but the Inuit lived there from the 11th century to the 1960s. Remains of fox traps, tent rings, and food caches have been discovered in the area. The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) had an operating trading post in the area from 1925 to 1947.
Little is known about Wager Bay's early history, as until the 19th century the area was inhabited by Inuit who traditionally passed down their history by word-of-mouth.
There is, however, a remarkable quantity of stone relics, mainly tent rings from Thule people, inuksuit, caches and shelters which provide evidence that the coast of Wager Bay has been inhabited for thousands of years. About 500 archaeological sites have been identified from Dorset culture (500 BC - 1000 AD), and from Thule culture (1000 - 1800) and the last two centuries.
In 1742, Christopher Middleton on his sailing ship Furnace was the first European to enter the fjord, which he could not leave for several weeks because of ice flow.
He named the bay after Sir Charles Wager, First Lord of the British Admiralty, and an inlet where he anchored Douglas Harbour after James and Henry Douglas, sponsors of his expedition. The Savage Islands nearby he named after "savage Eskimos" (wild Eskimos) he met there.
Middleton was not successful in his search for the Northwest Passage, and neither was William Moore with his sloop Discovery five years later. As the region was too remote and thought to be useless, the bay was not again recorded or visited for more than a century. In the 1860s, American explorer Charles Francis Hall's two-masted ship Monticello reached Roes Welcome Sound in 1864 while searching for John Franklin's lost Northwest Passage expedition of 1845 and had to overwinter at the mouth of Wager Bay.
In 1879, another American expedition led by Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka searching for John Franklin passed nearby Wager Bay by land. The region eventually became recognized when the fur trade started there at the end of 19th century.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Canadian government showed an interest in the Wager Bay region and sent geologist Albert Peter Low on Neptune in order to establish Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic north.
At nearly the same time, in 1900, the American whaler George G. Cleveland, working alone, established a whaling station near the entrance of the bay, that operated for the next four years. Despite his closure of the station, Scottish whalers for some time tried their luck to hunt marine mammals in the Wager area. Large iron harpoon heads and other remnants are still found on the Savage Islands.
In 1910, the Royal Northwest Mounted Police (precursor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) set up a police post at Wager Bay coast, near Savage Islands. A police boat wreck, in a small inlet on the southeast shore of Wager Bay is testimony to the brief presence of police there.
In 1915, George Cleveland set up a temporary—and the region's first—trading post, near the mouth of Wager Bay. In 1919, Cleveland, now working for the HBC, again set up a trading post in the mouth of Wager Bay. It was transferring building materials for the establishment of the Repulse Bay HBC post. Sitting at a favourable location at the northern end of Roes Welcome Sound, this post became important for the company's intention to expand their business towards the north.
Alongside these local activities, the Hudson's Bay Company, during the first years of the 20th century, made great effort to get the fur trade under control. They started to build up a large and dense network of posts from the barren lands of northwest Hudson Bay to the northern coast of the continent. According to those plans, a post at the outermost edge of Wager Bay should play a key role. That new post was meant to include the Ukkusiksalingmiut area to the Back River estuary, 250 km (160 mi) to the northwest, into the company's strategy, thereby, if ever possible, preventing commercial activities of competitors, Revillon Frères, operating from their Baker Lake base. In the late summer of 1925, the two-masted schooner Fort Chesterfield entered the channel, and, following the advice of local Inuit, found a well-protected inlet in Tusjujak (now Ford Lake) to establish their strategic station.
During the first years, things went quite well. Besides offering usual supply goods, the post supported the Inuit in general, and gave, as far as possible, medical assistance. Thus, it became a meeting point that allowed Inuit from distant camps to exchange news as well. In December 1929, 22 Inuit families were counted, 107 persons in total, camping in their igloos nearby. Soon later, fur trade stopped booming. Hudson's Bay Company changed their major post into an outpost in 1933 and entrusted an Inuk, Iqungajuq (Wager-Dick), with its management. He thereby got the chance to start his own business in the fur trade. Wager-Dick and his family lived in the post buildings and ran the outpost until 1946. The company was eventually successful with its strategy towards its competitor and bought Revillon Frères in 1936.
Catholic missionaries, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who passed by in those years set up a small mission on one of Savage Islands, but never had great success and withdrew, when the activities of Hudson's Bay Company ended by mid-1940s and the Inuit had migrated into communities.
Some 30 years later, from 1979 to 1981, Inuit from Rankin Inlet tried to revive their former homeland, but without success. The area is now unoccupied by people, except for occasional visitors and local Inuit who hunt in the area.
Tundra and coastal mudflats south of the Arctic Circle and the hamlet of Repulse Bay, from Hudson Bay's Roes Welcome Sound towards the western Barrenlands and the source of Brown River. The park surrounds Wager Bay, a 100 km (62 mi)-long inlet on the Hudson Bay.
At Hudson Bay’s northwest corner, some 200 km (120 mi) northeast of Chesterfield Inlet, near the Capes Fullerton and Kendall, is the entrance of Roes Welcome Sound, which extends northwards between the Barrenlands of the Kivalliq Region (meaning: border of the land) and Southampton Island to Repulse Bay, where there is a settlement of that name, situated at the Arctic circle. Wager Bay is an inlet of Roes Welcome Sound, pretty much in its geographical centre, near Cape Dobbs.
Wager Bay is the core of the national park. Its entrance is a rather narrow bottleneck, it is more than 30 km (19 mi) long and approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) wide at its narrowest spot. The tides rise and fall up to 8 metres (26 ft) and currents are extraordinary and cause large accumulations of ice masses during most of the year, often preventing the passage of watercraft. During early summer the rising flood water washes large quantities of drifting ice and icebergs into the bay. These accumulate during ebb tide, close the bottleneck like a cork and may stay for hours or even days.
In some places, Wager Bay is more than 250 m (820 ft) deep. The fjord is up to 35 km (22 mi) wide and almost 200 km (120 mi) long, extending northwest into Kivalliq-Barrenlands. It reaches latitude 66°, therefore some 40 km (25 mi) from the Arctic Circle.
Even at its western end, tides are impressive, between Wager Bay and the 2-km (1.2 mi) wide Ford Lake (Tusjujak in Inuktitut), so-called Reversing Falls occur.
Flora and fauna
The region is home to such species as polar bears, grizzly bears, Arctic wolf, caribou, seals and peregrine falcons. Vegetation in the park is typical low tundra, with dwarf birch, willow and mountain avens. Scattered patches of boreal forest can be encountered in river valleys.
There are 16 species of mammals in the park. At Wager Bay’s south shore is a large polar bear denning area. Therefore, in July and at the beginning of August, polar bears can be observed, from a boat, on floes, on islands or swimming from close up. Caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and curious Arctic ground squirrels (Spermophilus parryii) come close to Sila Lodge. More rarely seen are the shy lemmings (Lemmus sibiricus). Due to their camouflage, Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) and Arctic hares (Lepus arcticus), are not easily spotted but are most likely seen when fleeing. Other animals seen occasionally include Arctic wolves (Canis lupus arctos), muskoxen (Ovibos moschatus), snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) and wolverines (Gulo gulo).
Several species of marine mammals can be seen in the park’s area: ringed seals (Phoca hispida) and bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus) live there in large numbers, and from time to time a walrus (Odobenus rosmarus), common seal (harbour seal, Phoca vitulina), a beluga (Delphinapterus leucas), a narwhal (Monodon monoceros), or a bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) may appear in Wager Bay.
Only four species of fish have been reported: Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus), lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush), lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus) and ninespine stickleback (Pungitius pungitius).
Birders are able to observe up to 40 species.
On the one hand, the national park is a typical rocky tundra area, on the other hand, beneath algae, bryophyte and lecanorales lichens grows a flora of 25 families of flowering plants. They are closely related to alpine flora, but different.
The prevailing climate is arctic-maritime; relatively little precipitation, low temperatures, and strong winds. It has North America's highest wind chill and largest snowdrifts. Due to this, the national park is considered to be "high arctic".
A remarkable feature is that at the south shore of Wager Bay a steep mountain range, gorged by former glaciers, strongly influences the weather. Due to its proximity to Hudson Bay, drops in temperature and strong fog are normal during summertime, as blizzards are during early autumn. The bay is not completely free of ice before the end of July, although temperatures may range from cool to very warm between May and September.
The park can be reached from the nearest communities of Baker Lake or Repulse Bay by plane or boat. Baker Lake, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat can be reached by commercial airlines. The park is accessible by plane charter year-round. Local outfitters in Repulse Bay offer the 7-hour boat trip to the park in July and August, or snowmobile excursions in spring.
Visitors should book an outfitter to access the park well in advance. Allow extra travel time for weather delays and have experience with backcountry travel.
- To Iqaluit: First Air Ltd. and Canadian North fly direct to Iqaluit from Montreal, Ottawa & Yellowknife.
- Travel from Iqaluit to Rankin Inlet: Rankin Inlet is the hub for air traffic heading to Repulse Bay, Chesterfield Inlet, Baker Lake, and Coral Harbour. Scheduled flights and charters to Rankin Inlet are available from Winnipeg, or from Ottawa via Iqaluit or Edmonton via Yellowknife. Air travellers should plan for the possibility of weather delays when making their travel arrangements.
- To Ukkusiksalik National Park: The park can be accessed from the communities of Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay, Chesterfield Inlet, Baker Lake, or Coral Harbour. Local outfitters can access the park by boat in July and August. It is a 7-hour boat trip from the closest community or a charter flight can be arranged from Baker Lake or Rankin Inlet.
Fees and permits
For 2019, a Northern Park Backcountry Daily Excursion Permit is $12.00 per person per day. The overnight permit fee is $24.50 per person per night.
All visitors to Ukkusiksalik National Park must attend a mandatory orientation session, register, pay the applicable fees and obtain a valid park entry permit. If you plan to travel on Inuit-owned land, contact the Kivalliq Inuit Association at +1-800-220-6581 for permission.
To register your trip, make a reservation for your orientation at the Parks Canada office in Naujaat (Repulse Bay) at least one week in advance.
To de-register your trip, within 24 hours of exiting the park, visit the Parks Canada office in Naujaat (Repulse Bay) or contact them by phone at +1 867 462-4500.
Permits for operating a business (guiding, outfitting), filming and commercial photography, research, landing an aircraft, establishing a cache or base camp, or for transporting a firearm through the park must be acquired through the Parks Canada office well in advance (some permits may take 90 days or more to be issued). Research permits are only issued in winter and spring.
Contact local outfitters through a community office, and be sure only to hire one with a business licence to operate in the park:
- Municipality of Baker Lake +1 867 793-2874
- Municipality of Chesterfield Inlet +1 867 898-9951
- Municipality of Coral Harbour +1 867 925-8867
- Municipality of Naujaat (Repulse Bay) +1 867 462-9952
- Municipality of Rankin Inlet +1 867 645-2895
There are more than 400 documented archaeological sites within park boundaries, including tent rings, food caches, fox traps and an extensive site called Aklungiqtautitalik, meaning “Place of the rope game.” Named for a large, distinctive stone feature on the south side of the site, archaeologists believe this area might have been used prehistorically and in relatively recent times. Akungiqtautitalik is not open to visitors.
In 1925, a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post was set up at the head of Wager Bay above an area of reversing tidal falls, to take advantage of inland trade potential and additional trade routes. It is significant as being the first post ran by an Inuit manager. Old buildings remain on-site as relics of this era.
Several of these sites may be visited with a licensed operator. If you wish to visit the old trading post, ask if Parks Canada staff are available to accompany you.
Usually, the park can only be visited during a very few summer weeks, from the beginning of July until the beginning of August. Before that, Wager Bay has too much ice to be visited by boat, and in the autumn the Inuit say: "During summertime, you may watch polar bears. Afterwards, they will watch you!"
The place can be reached by a hired plane – usually one would depart from Baker Lake, about 350 km (220 mi) away, where scheduled flights arrive from Rankin Inlet. One can also approach by motorboat from Repulse Bay, where Parks Canada runs a station, but due to possible problems with ice this might take longer and therefore will only be considered by explorers or movie teams who have to bring a lot of equipment.
The only air strip in the park is at the Sila River on Wager Bay's north coast. In 1987, Inuit from the area built Sila Lodge at this location. The lodge was opened for a few weeks during the summertime to allow nature enthusiasts to stay in the area. Due to the high cost of the flights, the lodge has been little used since 2002. From Sila Lodge, guided tours were offered, for instance boating tours to the Wager Bay islands, or to Ford Lake across the reversing falls, to the former Hudson's Bay Company outpost, or walks to the surrounding area, where you would find impressive relics of earlier settlements, such as tent rings, qarmaq and inuksuk. The site can be used as a starting point for backpacking trips, but with suitable precautions taken for polar bears in the area.
Sila River's "Fourth Waterfall" – typical Canadian Shield rocks The following valleys, water falls and lakes can be reached by walking from the Sila Lodge area:
- First (lowest) waterfall of Sila River - total: 4 km (2.5 mi), time to walk: 1 hr, total time: 1.5 hr, height difference: 40 m (130 ft), peak: 4 m (13 ft), difficulty: easy.
- Traversing Tinittuktuq Flats - total: 6 km (3.7 mi), time to walk: 1.5 hr, total time: 5 hr, height difference: 80 m (260 ft), peak: 30 m (98 ft), difficulty: easy.
- To Ship's Cove - total: 10 km (6.2 mi), time to walk: 2.5 hr, total time: 4 hr, height difference: 50 m (160 ft), peak: 30 m (98 ft), difficulty: easy-medium.
- Second waterfall of Sila River - total: 8 km (5.0 mi), time to walk: 2.5 hr, total time: 5 hr, height difference: 160 m (520 ft), peak: 110 m (360 ft), difficulty: medium.
- Third and fourth waterfall of Sila River and Falcon Gorge - total: 8 km (5.0 mi), time to walk: 2.5 hr, total time: 5 hr, height difference: 416 m (1,365 ft), peak: 110 m (360 ft), difficulty: medium-difficult.
- Fisherman's Hike - total: 10 km (6.2 mi), time to walk: 3 hr, total time: 5 hr, height difference: 200 m (660 ft), peak: 150 m (490 ft), difficulty: medium-difficult.
- To Butterfly Lake - total: 16 km (9.9 mi), time to walk: 5 hr, total time: 8 hr, height difference: 400 m (1,300 ft), peak: 250 m (820 ft), difficulty: (very) difficult.
Buy, eat, and drink
There are no facilities in the park. Bring everything you need with you.
Filter (<0.5 microns), treat (iodine or chlorine in warm water), or boil drinking water.
An outfitter or tour company may be able to set up an appropriate campsite with a solar-powered electric fence and a sentry. See the contact list above in "Getting around".
- Sila Lodge is an Inuit-owned outfitting operation and naturalist lodge located inside the park. It is not operating for the 2019 season. Contact the park office for future information.
When to go
- March to April: Spring trips by snowmobile or dog-team may be possible until mid-May. By late May, snow and ice melt make travel possibilities unpredictable.
- June to mid-July: During ice break-up, access is by chartered aircraft only; you cannot access the park by boat.
- Mid-July to October: It is possible to access the park by boat. The best time for hiking and camping is from mid-July through August.
- November to March: Access is not advisable due to heightened bear hazard, weather and darkness.
You can also check online for Arctic ice conditions.
- Polar bears are far more abundant in Ukkusiksalik than in most other Arctic parks. Several encounters are likely on any trip. Because of this danger, visitors must travel in the park with a properly equipped and trained guide who is experienced in polar bear country. For more information, speak with parks staff, read the Safety in Polar Bear Country pamphlet, and watch the “Polar Bears: A Guide to Safety” at the park office or request one online.
- Foxes and wolves can carry rabies. Do not allow them to approach you.
- Birds and wildlife are inquisitive and opportunistic. They will scavenge food left out and raid caches that are not securely stashed. Make sure food and garbage is securely stored.
- Walrus or whales can be aggressive and easily upset a boat. Keep your distance.
- Grizzly bears, muskox, and wolverines have also been sighted in the park and do not like to be approached. Keep a safe distance.
- Frostbite, hypothermia, and thin ice are hazards of winter travel in the Arctic.