Baffin Island is an island in the Canadian north and a part of Nunavut territory. Its land area of over 500,000 square kilometers makes it the largest island in Canada and the fifth largest island in the world (behind Madagascar and ahead of Sumatra).
Baffin Island is believed to have first been discovered around 1000 AD by Leif Eriksson and originally called Helluland by the Vikings. Its modern name comes from British explorer William Baffin, an early seeker of the fabled Northwest Passage.
The first permanent settlements came in the 1850s as part of the North Atlantic whaling industry. With the decline of whaling and the boom of fur trading in the early 1900s, the Hudson's Bay Company opened a trading outpost near what would become Iqaluit in 1914. Hudson's Bay Co. also established a post in Pangnirtung, making it the second largest city on Baffin Island. Iqaluit would later house an American Air Force base from 1949 to 1963, providing a great boom to the local economy.
Baffin Island, along with the rest of Nunavut, separated from the rest of the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999. Iqaluit was chosen to be the capital in December, 1995 and officially recognized as such on April 19, 2001.
Baffin Island has a population of only 11,000, about one third of the entire Nunavut territory. Over half the population is native Inuit. Of this 11,000, over half live in its largest city Iqaluit, which is also the capital and largest city in Nunavut. Other large towns include Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet, and Cape Dorset, which is located on a small offshore island. The island is governed as a part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, consisting of the Melville Penninsula and a large number of Canada's arctic islands (including Ellesmere, the third largest island in Canada).
In the central part of the island is the Barnes icecap, which was been retreating since the 1960s. Baffin Island also contains a large mountain range. Its highest peak is Mount Blanche at 2,146 m. Other notable features include Mount Asgard, used in the opening sequence of the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, and Mount Thor, which is Earth's highest purely vertical drop at 1,250 m (with an average angle of 105 degrees). These locations are popular with rock climbers and BASE jumpers, in spite of their remoteness.
Baffin Island is also home to Auyuittuq National Park. Auyuittuq National Park contains little vegetation and sparse wildlife (known to house only 12 species of mammals), but is an excellent example of the many terrains of an Arctic wilderness. In Inuit, Auyuittuq means "the land that never melts".
A large portion of Baffin Island lies north of the Arctic Circle. As a result, many communities are subject to Polar night and midnight sun. Clyde River on the eastern coast of Baffin Island, for example, experiences continuous sunlight from May 14 to July 28, and perpetual darkness from November 22 until January 19.
How to Get There
The primary means of travel to Baffin Island from mainland Canada is through Iqaluit Airport. Canada North provides regular service from Ottawa, while First Air serves the city from Ottawa and Montreal. The airport features a long WWII era runway able to accommodate most modern jets. This proved useful on June 1, 1996 when a Virgin Atlantic 747 en route from London to Los Angeles was forced to make an emergency landing when a passenger suffered a heart attack. Local rumor insists that the airport serves as an emergency landing site for NASA's Space Shuttle, although this rumor is false. The airport has also served as a cold weather aircraft testing facility, notably for the Airbus A380. Air service is provided through Iqaluit to most cities on Baffin Island.
What to Do
Iqaluit is home to the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum. This museum contains a permanent collection of Inuit artifacts, as well as northern themed traveling exhibits which change throughout the year. Artisans can enjoy the Nunavut Arctic College and its collection of jewelry and metalwork and impressive sculpture garden. Near Iqaluit is the small village of Apex. This is the site of the historic St. Simon’s Church and some of the original Hudson's Bay Company buildings.
Pangnirtung is the nearest town to Auyuittuq National Park. As such, it serves as an excellent starting point for those wishing to backpack along Akshayuk Pass, or visit some of the many cliffs for a BASE jumping excursion.
Pond Inlet is called one of Canada's "jewels of the north". Picturesque mountain ranges are seen in all directions, making the landscape a favorite of local artists.
Due to the extreme northerliness and limited light pollution, all of Baffin Island makes for excellent viewing of the Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis are best view in Spring and early Fall. The light show continues in Winter, but skywatchers should be prepared for the extreme temperatures found during that time of the year.
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