Home Destination Focus Kugaaruk


68.53298° N, -89.82672° E

© Nick Newbery

The Hamlet of Kugaaruk is located on Simpson Peninsula south of the Gulf of Boothia on the east coast of Pelly Bay in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut. Kugaaruk was incorporated as a hamlet in 1972 under its previous name, Pelly Bay. The hamlet and the bay originally shared the same name in honour of Hudson’s Bay Company governor Sir John Pelly. In December 1999, the community was officially renamed Kugaaruk, meaning “a little stream” in Inuktitut. The area is also called Arviligjuaq, meaning “place of many bowhead whales.”

Quintessential Kugaaruk experiences:

  • Travel with an expert local hunter on a trek for wildlife
  • Tour Pelly Bay in a sea kayak
  • Watch narwhals and beluga whales in the bay

The population of Kugaaruk is approximately 97 per cent Inuit and most people self-identify as Netsilik Inuit. Inuit have lived in the area for thousands of years as this was an important place for both caribou and sea mammal hunting. Numerous archaeological sites dot the landscape and add a sense of history to the area.

Although first European contact came in 1829, the Inuit of Kugaaruk were amongst the last indigenous peoples in North America to have continuous contact with Europeans in the latter part of the 19th century. Local ice conditions meant that it was difficult for traders, missionaries, and explorers to reach the area. This unique environment allows visitors to experience sea ice throughout most of the year, providing an amazing window on winter life and activities, even during the summer.

The first Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in 1935 and a permanent mission was established in 1937. A stone chapel built in 1941 is being restored today by the community as an important historic site.

Local Inuit were largely nomadic until 1955 with the construction of a DEW Line radar site in the community, CAM-4. The DEW Line site introduced wage economy, which led many Inuit to settle in the area. Schools and a nursing station were constructed in the early 1960s. With the completion of an airstrip in 1968, the Canadian Government airlifted 37 prefabricated houses to Kugaaruk.

Contemporary life in Kugaaruk continues to be largely tied to the traditional economy. Hunting and fishing remain important to provide food and clothing for local people. Most families supplement their diet with ringed seal, caribou, and Arctic char. Other game includes narwhal, polar bear, wolverine, and muskox. Within the last decade there has also been a rise in mineral exploration, with numerous gold and diamond exploration camps located within a 150 km radius.

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