Bathurst Island

Located in the center of Canada's High Arctic, Bathurst Island has an area of about 15,500 km2. With an irregular coastline and several long inlets reaching inland, no part of the island is more than 40 km from the sea. Bathurst Island is of low relief with few mountain ranges. Several peaks reach 300 m in the north, but much of the central part is below 100 m. The highest hills in the southern half are of volcanic origin and reach a height of 335 m. The geological structure is mainly sedimentary and most rocks are limestone or dolomite. Bathurst Island was covered by glacial ice from about 35,000 years ago until about 10,000 years ago.

The climate is typically Arctic with cold temperatures, frequent but moderate winds, and low precipitation. The yearly mean temperature is about -7°C. The low precipitation gives Bathurst Island a polar desert climate and much of the island has virtually no vegetation. In some lowlands, especially Polar Bear Pass, grasses and sedges form a lush growth around ponds and lakes. These wet meadows feature frost mounds, polygons, and patterned ground.

Wildlife is abundant in the lowland areas with large numbers of breeding birds, muskoxen, wolves, and Arctic foxes. Once numerous, the threatened Peary caribou utilize northern Bathurst for rutting and calving. Archaeological sites of the Independence, Dorset, and Thule Cultures are found on southern Bathurst.

The first European to see Bathurst Island, Sir William Parry, named it in 1819 after a sponsor, the Earl of Bathurst. Expeditions in search of the missing Franklin expedition charted much of the unknown coastline between 1850 and 1853. In 1909, Captain

J.E. Bernier landed on Bathurst Island and formally took possession for Canada.

After 1953, when several Inuit families moved from Arctic Québec to neighboring Cornwallis Island, people began hunting caribou on southern Bathurst, known to them as "Tuktuliarvik." The Inuit own lands on the southern and northeastern coasts, but there is no permanent settlement on the Island.

Modern exploration dates from 1955 when the Geological Survey of Canada surveyed the Island. In the winter of 1963-1964, one of the first exploratory oil wells in the Arctic islands was drilled in central Bathurst. Following extensive seismic exploration, two wells were drilled in the winter of 1970-1971. The potential for lead-zinc mineral deposits exists in northeastern Bathurst.

The establishment of a Research Station in 1968 provided a base for extensive biological and ecological research into the 1990s. In 1983, Polar Bear Pass received protection as Canada's first Arctic National Wildlife Area. In 1996, northern Bathurst Island was reserved for a proposed national park (Tuktusiuqvialuk) to represent the western High Arctic and to preserve important Peary caribou range.

David R. Gray

See also Beaufort Sea; Nunavut; Parry, Sir William Edward; Queen Elizabeth Islands

Further Reading

Dunbar, Moira & Keith R. Greenaway, Arctic Canada From the Air, Ottawa: Defence Research Board, 1956

Dunbar, Moira & Keith R. Greenaway, Arctic Canada From the Air, Ottawa: Defence Research Board, 1956

Gray, David R., The Muskoxen of Polar Bear Pass, Markham: National Museum of Natural Sciences/Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1987 Harington, C. Richard (editor), Canada's Missing Dimension: Science and History in the Canadian Arctic Islands, Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Nature, 855pp Parks Canada, New Parks North. Newsletter No. 10, 2001, 36pp Taylor, Andrew, Geographical Discovery and Exploration in the Queen Elizabeth Islands, Ottawa: Department of Mines and Technical Surveys, 1955

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