Cape Dorset, or Kinngait in Inuktitut, is located on the mountainous Foxe Peninsula on West Baffin Island. The community of about 1250 residents has come to be known as the Inuit art capital of the world.
It was at Cape Dorset that the remains of an ancient Inuit people, who flourished between 1000 B.C. and 1100 A.D., were found. They were called the "Dorset Culture" after Cape Dorset. The Baffin Inuit of Cape Dorset are descendents of the later "Thule Culture" known by their legends as the "Tunlit".
The cape itself was named by Captain Luke Foxe on September 24, 1631, after Edward Sackville, Earl of Dorset. Sackville, a Lord of the Admiralty, was one of Foxe's sponsors in his unsuccessful attempt to find the Northwest Passage. The "cape" on Dorset Island is actually a 243 meter [798 feet] high mountain, part of the Kinngait Range. Kinngait means "high mountain" in Inuktitut, hence the name of the community.
The Hudson's Bay Company established a trading post in 1913. A Roman Catholic mission was established in 1938 but closed in 1960 as the majority of the residents are of the Anglican faith.
In 1947, the well known Artic supply ship, the RMS Nascopie, struck an uncharted reef at the harbor's entrance and sank. The ship and its cargo were lost, but the crew and passengers were saved. A cairn was built in memory of the disaster.
In 1953, the Inuit of Cape Dorset built the Anglican Church on their own initiative. In the same year, the artist James Houston arrived in the community. Mr. Houston and his wife spent 10 years in Cape Dorset, finding gifted artists, encouraging carving and handicraft production and introducing print-making. The West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative was founded in 1959. In that year the first major exhibition of Cape Dorset Inuit sculpture was held at the Stratford Festival. It was a success and carving and graphic art have now become the economic mainstay of the community.
Land and Wildlife
The Mallikjuaq Historic Park Visitors Centre contains displays on both Dorset and Mallikjuaq Islands. You can take a boat to Mallikjuaq Island or hike there at low tide. The archeological sites at Mallikjuaq Territorial Historic Park are easy to reach and can be explored in half a day. There are several interesting hikes on Dorset Island. The waterfall route takes you from the south edge of town past a little waterfall to the beach. The pipeline route goes to T Lake, the source of Cape Dorset's drinking water, and then winds up into the hills to a lookout giving a view of the south end of Dorset Island and Hudson Strait. Another hike takes you east to Apalooktook Point. Guides will show you archeological sites on the island such as Thule houses, caches and burial sites. Wildlife is plentiful in the summer. You may see caribou, Arctic hare, peregrine falcons, snowy owls, ptarmigan and ducks. Seals may appear at any time and beluga whale migrate through the area in October and April.
Arts and Crafts
The West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative was formed and incorporated in Cape Dorset in 1959 as the community's first economic development association. It remains one of the most important fixtures of community life. It is a centre for stone cut printing, lithographic printmaking, etching, and Inuit sculpture. Many of the artists creating at the centre are known by name in the global art community. The Co-operative sales outlet is located in the stonecut studio and is open year-round. Visitors can purchase soapstone, bone and marble carvings, etchings, lithographic prints and postcards. Printmakers work in the studio from September until June, taking time off in the summer.
At the Natsiq Sewing Centre you can have traditional clothing such as sealskin kamiks (boots) custom-made for you. There are two other sewing groups in the community. Information on these sewing groups can be obtained from the hamlet office.
How to get to Cape Dorset
Scheduled service to Cape Dorset is provided by First Air (www.firstair.ca) and Kenn Borek Air (www.borekair.com). The flight time is a little over an hour. First Air travels to Cape Dorset on week days and Kenn Borek flies to Cape Dorset on week days and Sundays.