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    Bylot Island

    Encyclopedia Arctica 13: Canada, Geography and General

    001      |      Vol_XIII-0727                                                                                                                  
    Canada, Geography


    BYLOT ISLAND (Eskimo, Kagiookta )

            Bylot Island, named for Robert Bylot, mate to Hudson and Master of the

    Discovery which had William Baffin as pilot in their great voyage in 1616, is a

    large mountainous island to the northeast of Baffin Island. Its area is about

    4000 square miles, and it is separated from the Baffin coast by Pond Inlet,

    Eclipse Sound, and Navy Board Inlet, a fine navigable waterway.

            Between 1616, when it was sighted by Bylot and Baffin, and 1818 Bylot

    Island remained unseen by white men. In the latter year Sir John Ross landed at

    Possession Bay on September 1st after his notorious retreat from the 'closed'

    Lancaster Sound. Lt. Parry, Mr. Skene and Mr. J. C. Ross were in the landing

    party who erected a flagstaff and claimed the land for George III. Four days

    later, after naming two other capes on the east coast, Ross discovered Ponds Bay

    which he also thought to be a closed bay.

            Parry revisited Possession Bay in 1819 and Sir John Ross himself landed

    at his cairn in 1833 after having been picked up by the whaler Isabella at the

    northwest corner of the Island at the conclusion of the four year Victory expedi–

    tion . Parry's voyage opened the 'North water' to the whalers and from 1820 on–

    wards this became one of the greatest northern whaling grounds. The area along

    the shore ice off Pond Inlet was the goal of the racing whalers for half a century.

    But descriptive accounts from the whaling captains are scanty with the exception

    of a [ ?] good account given by Capt. A. H. Markham on a whaling cruise with the

    'Arctic'" in 1873, and the Franklin search expeditions have given us more infor–

    mation. Assisting this search the whalers Truelove and Advice landed stores at a

    cache at Cape Hay. McClintock visited the natives at Button Point and Kaparoktalik

    in 1858 during his famous voyage in the yacht Fox.

            In 1903 a permanent whaling and trading station was established across

    Pond Inlet (near Mt. Herodier), the beginning of steady trade which has lasted

    till today. In 1914 both Captain Munn and Captain Bernier established trade posts,

    the former near Button Point which is the southeast corner of the island closest

    to the best whaling and sealing grounds. This station persisted till 1923, Munn

    himself spending two winters, but in the latter year he was bought out by the

    Hudson's Bay Company who had built in 1921 at the present Pond Inlet site on

    Baffin Island. One of Munn's buildings is still used by Eskimo hunters at Button

    Point for the spring sealing.

            Meanwhile other visitors had reached Bylot Island. A. P. Low had

    sailed around the island in the Neptune in 1903 and given a rather inaccurate ac–

    count of its features. Captain Bernier landed at Canada Point in 1906 and took

    possession of the island in the name of Canada. Messrs. Reader and J. Le Bel,

    who wintered with Bernier at Albert Harbour in 1912-1913, spent 6 weeks trapping

    with natives on the Island, and T. Matthiassen of the 5th Thule E [ ?] pedition

    visited points on the southeast coast in 1923.

            After the establishment of the Hudson's Bay Company, the R. C. M. P.

    (1922) and two missions at Pond Inlet, the southern coast of the island was

    frequently visited both winter and summer and shacks were erected in several

    places for hunting and trapping.

            In 1939 P. D. Baird spent most of the summer on the island and made a

    crossing by dog team in June from the southwest to the middle east coast via an

    ice col about 5000 feet above sea level. Later visitors have included the U. S.

    Naval Task Force which anchored in Tay Bay in 1946.

    002      |      Vol_XIII-0728                                                                                                                  


            The island is approximately square though the east coast slopes to the

    northwest more than 1947 maps indicate. It is a jumble of rough peaks partly

    submerged by ice, but there is no continuous level ice cap. The peaks reach to

    about 6300 feet, the highest appearing to be just west of the central point of

    the island, and seem to form a wide curved ridge running from northwest to south–

    east along the longest axis of the island about 100 miles from Button Point to

    the northwest cape.

            Lowland is scarce, the only extensive areas being the southwest corner

    and southern part of the west coast, the c [ e ?] ntral northern coast and other insigni–

    ficant areas at the mouth of deep valleys up which the valley glaciers have re–

    treated. These glaciers form numerous broad, gently sloping roads to the interior

    highlands, the largest Bartle Frere glacier, extending from the ice-shed behind

    Mt. Thule to the northern lowland, about 35 miles.

            The coast immediately facing Pond Inlet post is most precipitous. Four

    large glaciers and several smaller ones break through a steep gullied mountain

    wall, from west to east these are named Aktinek, Sermilik, Kaparoktalik and

    Narsarsuk. In plain view from the village are the peaks between these, Mt. Thule

    some 11 miles inland, 5800 feet, Castle Gables, 4600 feet, and an unnamed peak,

    4875 feet. Kaparoktalik, described by McClintock, pushes its terminal moraine in–

    to the inlet, and at Sermilik ice reaches the sea terminating in a cliff 200 feet

    high with occasional discharge of icebergs. From Sermilik westwards a low fore–

    land begins, widening around the southwest of the island and vanishing again

    south of Canada Point. Aktinek glacier ends nearly five miles from the sea.

            Mt. Thule, though the highest peak in the spectacular range visible

    from Ponds village, is by no means the highest in the island. Several peaks to

    the north of it exceed 6000 feet. One of these 6200 feet, stands at the junction

    of Aktinek, Sermilik and the largest northflowing glacier (named Bartle Frere by

    Capt. Markham) and was climbed by Baird in 1939 1 . From here peaks even higher

    were seen to the northwest.

            Though the main mountain mass consists of Pre-Cambrian gneiss and

    granite the southwestern lowland is formed of more recent rocks, sandstones,

    shales and thin seams of coal apparently of Tertiary age reaching to 2000 feet in

    attitude. In addition many glacial deposits with drumlin-like features have al–

    tered the surface which is cut by several recent consequent streams. Considerable

    aeolian erosion of the sandstones appears due to powerful easterly winds in this

    region in summer which give rise to minor sandstorms. The sea is shoal for some

    distance off this southwest shore.

            North of Canada Point there are more sediments, approximately horizon–

    tally bedded, rising to table topped and also more rounded mountains. The age of

    these is uncertain.

            Shortly before the junction of Navy Board Inlet and Lancaster Sound

    there is the fine deep harbour called Tay Bay often used by whalers especially

    Capt. W. F. Milne of the 'Eclipse'. This has a glacier filled valley at its head.

    003      |      Vol_XIII-0729                                                                                                                  

            The northwest corner of the island is high, and steep slopes and glaciers

    again reach the sea just east of Cape Hay where there is a well know loomery.

    But thereafter the central portion of the north coast is lowland again with a

    huge piedmont glacier, formed by the joining of a northeastward flowing glacier

    with the Bartle Frere ice stream flowing from the height of land near Mt. Thule,

    forming the inland side of this lowland. Cape Liverpool is a low point of this


            This lowland comes to an end west of Cape Fanshawe a prominent rocky

    headland, and from there on south the east coast consists of broken mountains with

    several large glacier filled valleys often forming breaks through the highland.

    Possession Bay with at least four miles of wide well vegetated ice-free valley

    floor is one of these and two other major openings are situated at latitudes

    73°22′ and 72°55′ where four or five miles of low valley extend beyond the

    glacier fronts. The latter valley is just north of Cape Graham Moore (called in

    Eskimo Agpa after the looms which nest there) and it in turn is six miles north

    of the Button Point settlement.

            Button Point is a spit connected by a narrow neck to a narrow area of

    foreland consisting of Quaternary deposits lying on a shelf of gneiss. Mt. St.

    Hans rises steeply behind this foreland to about 1000 feet, the level of the 100

    plateau summit in this corner of the island. The foreland extends only a few

    miles further up the inlet and then the south facing mountains fall off so steep–

    ly that overland passage is impracticable.

            Except where the sandstorms have broken up the vegetative cover in the

    southwest the usual northern tundra flora is well developed on the ice-free low–

    lands and saxifraga oppositifolia and papaver radicatum were found at 3000 feet

    in the interior. Birds abound in summer including lesser snow and occasional

    blue geese, and the little brown crane (at its northward limit) observed both in

    1858 and 1939. Snow buntings were observed at 5500 feet by Baird as early as 4th

    June 1939.

            Although the right whales no longer give the sea an appearance of

    boiling as McClintock described it in 1858, the"North water" off Button Point is

    still rich in marine life. Seals are very numerous in spring on the landfast ice

    and this area is one of the most favourable in the Canadian Arctic for the rare

    narwhal. Narwhal and seals are often chased inshore by the voracious killer


            A few caribou still inhabit the valleys of the island, but for many

    years the natives who spent the spring at Button Point have traveled inland on

    Baffin Island for salmon fishing and caribou hunting, crossing before the ice on

    the inlet breaks out which usually occurs during the last week in July (21st in

    1939, 28th in 1858).


    Arctic Pilot, Vol. III. H. M. Stationery Office, London, 1931.

    Bernier, J. E. Report on the Dominion Government Expedition to the Arctic Islands

    on board the CGS Arctic 1906-07. Ottawa, 1910.

    Fisher, A. A Journal of a Voyage of Discovery to the Arctic Regions, 1819-20.

    London, 1821.

    004      |      Vol_XIII-0730                                                                                                                  
    Freuchen, P and Matthiassen, T. Contributions to the Physical Geography of the

    region North of Hudson Bay. Geog. Review, 1925.

    Low, A. P. The Cruise of the Neptune . Ottawa, 1906.

    Markham, A. H. A Whaling Cruise to Baffin Bay. London, 1874.

    McClintock, F. L. Voyage of the Fox in Arctic Seas. London, 1859.

    Matthiassen, T. Contributions to the Geography of Baffin Land 100 . Copenhagen, 1933.

    Munn, H. T. 1. Prairie Trails and Arctic Byways London, 1932.

    2. Tales of the Eskimo London undated.

    Parry, W. E. Journal of a voyage for the discovery of a North West Passage.

    London, 1821.

    Polar Record, Vol. 3, No. 19, p. 226. Cambridge 1940.

    Ross, John. A voyage of discovery for the purpose of exploring Baffin Bay.

    London, 1819.

    Sutherland, P. C. Journal of a voyage in Baffin Bay and Barrow Strait. London, 1852.

    Tremblay, Alfred. Cruise of the Minnie Maud . Quebec, 1921.



    005      |      Vol_XIII-0731                                                                                                                  


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