B Baffin Island A
The Place and the Research
This chapter provides a framework for the main narrative that follows. It includes a brief overview of the physical geography, notes on early exploration, and an outline of the relatively modest research accomplished prior to the Geographical Branch enterprise. It also outlines the early progress in naming the island’s geographical features, bearing in mind that this “anglo” nomenclature usually bypassed the Inuit place names that were based on an oral tradition and were at the time somewhat inaccessible to us. The chapter concludes with a summary of the initial field research objectives.
General geography and early history
Baffin Island (Map 1)—the fifth largest island in the world—is Canada’s most extensive island. From the southern tip, it extends north-northwest more than 1,600 kilometres between latitudes 62° and 74° north. Its narrow “waist” stretches about 320 kilometres across from Baffin Bay to Foxe Basin. Lying well north of the treeline, the island is fully Arctic; the Arctic Circle cuts across its southern third. In the 1960s, its population was a scant few thousand, principally Inuit living in small coastal settlements of several hundred people, many of whom still travelled to spring and summer hunting and fishing encampments. Frobisher Bay (Iqaluit) was the main administrative centre. Today it is the capital of Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut, but in the 1960s it was still a part of the Northwest Territories.
From a topographical point of view, Baffin Island can be described as the mirror image of the Scandinavian peninsula (Norway and Sweden), although situated about three degrees of latitude farther north. The very significant differences in climate, vegetation, and general habitability between the two land masses, however, are a reflection of their respective locations on opposite sides of the North Atlantic. On the Scandinavian side, the North Atlantic Drift, an extension of the warm Gulf Stream, keeps the far north of Norway (to 71° N) open all winter. However, the spectacular mountain and fiord landscape of Norway’s northwest coast is rivalled by Baffin Island’s northeast coast, with its many summits rising precipitously to more than 1,500 metres above sea level. (Fig. 1)
Numerous glaciers and ice caps mantle the coastal mountains of Baffin Island from which the land slopes down gradually southwestward to a broad, gently rolling inland plateau. The surface of the plateau itself continues to fall southwestward to the extensive lowlands and low islands that form the eastern margins of the often ice-choked Foxe Basin. An unusual feature of the north-central interior is the Barnes Ice Cap, more than 600 metres thick and 145 kilometres long, which was suspected to be a relic of the Laurentide Ice Sheet of the last ice age (Baird & Ward, 1952; Goldthwait, 1951).
In 1961, Baffin Island could be classed as little-known despite its immense size. Major islands in Foxe Basin, such as Prince Charles and Air Force islands, and sections of the west coast were discovered or mapped only as recently as 1948, during RCAF air photography operations mounted after the Second World War. The island’s interior had been traversed rarely, although for centuries Inuit caribou-hunting parties had crossed between Pond Inlet and northeastern Foxe Basin in late winter and early spring.1
Explorers and place names
The southwest coast of Greenland was settled more than a thousand years ago by Icelandic farmers and seafarers (Vikings) who were undoubtedly aware of southeastern Baffin Island.2 However, it was not until the efforts of adventurous navigators of Elizabethan England, in search of a commercial route north of the North American landmass to the riches of the Orient, that Baffin Island became better known. Hence the names of those early explorers are implanted on modern maps of the island and its surrounding seas: William Baffin, John Bylot, Henry Hudson, Luke Foxe, John Davis, and Martin Frobisher are among the most notable. Long after Baffin and his navigator, Bylot, penetrated to the island’s northern tip in 1616 and reached the entrance to Lancaster Sound, its northern part was still known as Cockburn Land and was believed to be a separate island.3
The next sequence of European place names4 can be largely attributed to the activities of archaeologists and anthropologists in the late nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth; thus, we have features named for Hantsch, Boas, Rowley, Bray, and Soper, as well as several others proposed by the Danish Fifth Thule Expedition of 1921–1924 (Mathiassen, 1933). Geographers and geologists received their share of recognition slightly later, either directly (Baird Peninsula, Longstaff Bluff) or indirectly according to their Scottish or Cambridge university derivations, such as Cambridge Fiord, Clyde Inlet, Buchan Gulf, Scott Inlet, the Bruce Mountains, Rannoch Arm, Royal Society Fiord (Wordie, 1938).5 The Scottish whalers of the nineteenth century penetrated many of the eastern fiords, although their discoveries were usually kept as commercial secrets. Nevertheless, later admirers of their exploits immortalized Peter Pond (Pond Inlet, strait, and settlement) and William Penny (Penny Ice Cap). It was the Wordie Expedition of 1937, however, that supported the climbing exploit that led to the first distant sighting from a mountaintop of what was later named the Barnes Ice Cap. In 1950, P. D. Baird, as leader of the Arctic Institute of North America (AINA) expedition to the ice cap, proposed the name in honour of McGill University Professor of Physics Howard T. Barnes.
One of the arduous early crossings of the northern interior was achieved by Graham Rowley, by dog sled, during the British-Canadian Arctic Expedition of the late 1930s. This led to the naming of both the Rowley River and Rowley Island in northeastern Foxe Basin.
In 1940, the Reverend Maurice Flint (Flint Lake) made a winter crossing south of the Barnes Ice Cap from Piling Bay to Clyde Inlet, and the following year, Canon J. H. Turner (Turner Glacier) made the same journey but in the opposite direction. Then, in 1945, RCMP officers Webster and Kyak made a spring crossing using a similar route. None of these journeys, however, resulted in any significant new topographic information.
The most recent set of place names approved before 1961 resulted from the highly successful AINA glaciological expeditions led by Colonel P. D. Baird, in 1950 to the Barnes Ice Cap and Clyde Inlet and three years later to the Penny Ice Cap and Pangnirtung. This nomenclature included (from 1950) the Barnes Ice Cap, Generator Lake, Ayr Lake, Eglinton Tower, Broad Peak, Sam Ford Fiord, Walker Arm, Inugsuin Fiord, and (from 1953) Mount Asgard, Mount Fleming, Mount Battle, Coronation Fiord and Glacier, Maktak Fiord, and Highway Glacier. The 1950 and 1953 expeditions also facilitated the first serious mountaineering in Baffin Island, including the first ascent of Mount Asgard by the Swiss members of the 1953 expedition: Jürg Marmet, Hans (J.) Röthlisberger; Fritz (F. H.) Schwarzenbach, and Housi (J. R.) Weber.
The 1960–1961 winter preparations for the first Geographical Branch research efforts on Baffin Island quickly brought me face to face with the problem of working in a large interior area that was almost entirely lacking in established place names, although there were probably many Inuit names unknown to us at the time. This was immediately prior to introduction of federal government policy in the late 1960s to give preference to First Nation and Inuit place names.
One approach was to extend existing place names to proximate features. Thus, the large river flowing southwestward into Isortoq Fiord became the River Isortoq, and its long lake expansion, Isortoq Lake. New names were also proposed: Rimrock Lake, River Freshney, Striding River, Lewis Glacier and Lewis River,6 Flitaway Lake, Separation Lake, Windless Lake, and so on. Our main topographic map sheet became “Cockburn Land.” The name “Isortoq” was applied to the 1:250 000 map sheet that centred on Rimrock Lake and the northern section of the Barnes Ice Cap. These names and others were formally submitted to, and accepted by, the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names after the 1961 field reconnaissance to north-central Baffin Island. Subsequently, many more place names were proposed, especially for the fiord area of the northeast coast, as our fieldwork expanded.
Impact of the DEW Line on Arctic access
One of the major consequences of the Cold War relevant to accessibility throughout the Canadian Arctic was establishment of the DEW Line. This was a series of high-tech radar stations constructed between 1954 and 1957 as a joint Canadian–United States venture. Sophisticated and permanently manned installations were set up at approximately 160-kilometre intervals between Greenland, Baffin Island, the central Arctic mainland, and the north coast of Alaska. These main stations closely followed the 69° N parallel with intermediate facilities (I-sites), creating a continent-wide chain with radar sites at 80-kilometre intervals. Short names were applied according to each sector; for instance, the eastern sector used the place name from Foxe Basin. (Map 2) Its centre of operations, Hall Beach, just south of Igloolik on the Melville Peninsula, was known as Fox-Main. Extending eastward across Foxe Basin and Baffin Island were Fox-1 (Rowley Island), Fox-2 (situated above Longstaff Bluff and often just called “Longstaff”), and Fox-3 (Dewar Lakes, or Mid-Baffin). Cape Hooper on the outer east coast facing Baffin Bay was an I-site. There were east coast links with other defence systems, such as the U.S. Coast Guard LORAN (long range navigation) site at Cape Christian, a few kilometres northeast of Clyde River settlement.7 In addition, there was a complex chain of sites connecting with the Mid-Canada Line (at approximately 54º N), and the Pinetree Line close to the Canada-U.S. border. The principal DEW Line sites had airstrips and maintenance facilities capable of servicing large aircraft.
This enormously expensive radar system was conceived as an essential line of defence to provide the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) with early warning of any possible Soviet airborne attack across the Arctic Ocean. Although it was still more or less secret in 1961, it revolutionized research in the Canadian Arctic by providing an indispensable logistical network. Researchers no longer needed to travel north by ship late one summer, overwinter, and conduct their fieldwork the following summer.
My long-range plans for research in north-
central Baffin Island would not have been possible without the DEW Line. Initially, our main dependency was on Fox-2 (Longstaff) and, during later summers, on Fox-3 (Dewar Lakes) and, to a much lesser extent, Cape Hooper. The lateral flights along the DEW Line also provided an important link with Fox-Main and comparatively easy access to commercial flights south from there (Hall Beach airport) to Montreal. Another frequently used route was by chartered aircraft between Fox-2 and Hall Beach (Sanirajak) and Frobisher Bay (Iqaluit), also connecting with commercial airline flights to and from Montreal. (See Map 1.)
Previous studies in physical geography and glaciology
Some of the earliest references to Baffin Island in the context of ice age history can be attributed to Bell (1884) and Low (1906). Their publications were understandably superficial considering the limited access from the sea, principally along the north coast of Hudson Strait, and the much more severe sea ice conditions compared with those prevailing today. As mentioned earlier, the 1937 Cambridge University expedition (Wordie, 1938) made a more detailed reconnaissance, using a chartered Norwegian sealer to penetrate several of the fiords of the northeast coast. Wordie’s party determined the height of former sea levels up to 60 metres above present sea level along the outer fiords. They also reported much higher terrace features closer to the fiord heads, up to 375 metres, but these were estimated from shipboard and were not visited. Despite doubt that they were marine terraces (Wordie thought it likely that they were glacial lateral features laid down by long-vanished glaciers, and we later proved this to be correct), Professor Richard F. Flint (Yale University), the doyen of glacial geologists of the time, was quick to assume they represented marine features, and they appeared as such on the first Glacial Map of North America (Flint et al., 1945).
The British-Canadian Arctic Expedition of the late 1930s, led by Tom Manning, provided invaluable archaeological and ethnographical data as well as maps of much of the previously unmapped Foxe Basin coastline and islands (Rowley, 2007). However, Baird’s long journey of 1938 from Igloolik via Steensby Inlet to Piling Bay (south of the site that would become the Fox-2 DEW Line station) produced little more than topographical notes.
The first serious and sustained fieldwork inland from the coasts came with the 1950 and 1953 AINA glaciological expeditions previously mentioned (Baird & Ward 1952; Ward & Baird, 1954 Weber, Marmet, Röthlisberger, & Schwarzenbach, 2008). Their work, centred on the southern dome of the Barnes Ice Cap and on the Penny Ice Cap, also included botanical (Schwarzenbach, 2011) and zoological (Watson, 2011) research. One of the more significant conclusions was the recognition of the Barnes Ice Cap as a geophysically new type of glacier—one where all the previous winter’s snow frequently melted and where glacial mass was maintained by refreezing of snowmelt onto the cold underlying ice. Ward and Baird (1952) proposed the term “Baffin-Type” for glaciers that received their nourishment solely from the refreezing of the snow meltwater, although they were partially anticipated by Schytt (1949) from research on the glaciers of the Kebnekaise area of Arctic Sweden. Richard Goldthwait was the senior Pleistocene geologist on the 1950 expedition. He observed sets of end moraines extending between the heads of Sam Ford and Clyde fiords (Goldthwait, 1951), although he was not able to gauge their massive extension from west of the Penny Ice Cap to the far northwest of the island. Nevertheless, he generously gave me access to his field notes and invited me to Columbus, Ohio, for discussions during the 1960–1961 winter.8
John Mercer’s doctoral dissertation, presented to McGill University in 1954, added valuable information on the glacial history of southernmost Baffin Island, although his field area was somewhat peripheral to that of the Geographical Branch and more than one thousand kilometres farther south. Like Flint, he also had become interested in very high terraces along the outer coast of Frobisher Bay. He assumed that they indicated former sea levels up to 435 metres above present sea level (Mercer, 1956). Furthermore, Mercer had worked with me in Ottawa during the 1956–1957 winter, and we had had many discussions about Baffin Island, especially the north-central interior. This influenced my determination to go there four years later.
In 1955, Robert Blackadar, with a Geological Survey of Canada (GSC) bedrock reconnaissance mapping party, recorded glacial features around Admiralty Inlet in the far northwest and introduced evidence for a late ice age flow of ice from the northwest across Steensby Inlet (Blackadar, 1958). In 1960, Bruce Craig and John Fyles, also of the GSC, published a summary paper on available information concerning the glaciation and deglaciation of the Canadian Arctic (Craig & Fyles, 1960). Their accompanying maps emphasized the scarcity of field data available to them, and they made the tentative assumption that, during the last ice age, a Baffin Island–Ellesmere Island glacier complex functioned independently, or semi-independently, of the main Laurentide Ice Sheet. Later research would show this to be incorrect.
Envisioning new field research on Baffin Island
The glimmerings of a plan for fieldwork in north-central Baffin Island had emerged from my first cursory air photo interpretation while working on preparation of the Arctic Pilot during the 1956–1957 winter in Ottawa (Canadian Hydrographic Service, 1959). Of particular interest were systems of massive end moraine that could be traced for hundreds of kilometres parallel to the heads of the fiords, extending down the length of the fiords to Baffin Bay. Next, there was a curious light- and dark-toned pattern widely spread across the interior plateau. Finally, what appeared as the shorelines of former glacially dammed lakes could be traced in several of the major valleys north and west of the Barnes Ice Cap with innumerable linear features perpendicular to them (see Figs. 2 and 3).
The potential importance of the four sets of features had been reinforced by the results of five years of fieldwork across Labrador-Ungava in the late 1950s and my increasing knowledge of the more detailed research in Scandinavia (Hoppe, 1952, 1959; Ives, 2010). The work of Professor Gunnar Hoppe (Stockholm University) in northern Scandinavia had indicated a major reversal of the classic assumption that large lakes had been dammed by a remnant mass of ice located over the Gulf of Bothnia and had overflowed across the Norwegian frontier into the Atlantic fiords. This phenomenon was seen as evidence of ice sheet and land interrelationships during the final phases of the Fenno-Scandinavian Ice Sheet of the last ice age. Hoppe had effectively demonstrated in the field in 1960, during an international symposium, that there had been no large ice-dammed lakes, but rather, merely small lakes in the tributary valleys dammed laterally by large glaciers in the main valleys that were flowing eastward to the Gulf of Bothnia. This led to the conclusion that the final flow of glacier ice toward the end of the last ice age was from the Norwegian-Swedish border mountains eastward into the Gulf of Bothnia, not the reverse. My work in the Torngat Mountains and along the George River in Labrador-Ungava in the 1950s demonstrated an apparently contradictory situation—very large lakes in the main valleys spilling across the watershed into the Labrador Sea with the remnant ice sheet located to the west, or inland, of the Labrador coastal mountains (Ives, 1960b, 2010).
Baird (1950) and Goldthwait (1951) had speculated that the Barnes Ice Cap might be a relic of the Laurentide Ice Sheet.9 In the late 1950s, when I began reconnaissance mapping of the outlines of the final disappearance of the Laurentide Ice Sheet in central Labrador-Ungava, the map of Baffin Island appeared as its present-day analogy. The Barnes Ice Cap, located anomalously on the plateau and damming glacial lakes along its eastern margins, appeared as a rough parallel, thousands of years later, to the last remnant of the ice sheet in the centre of Labrador-Ungava, damming glacial lakes along its northeastern margins (Ives, 1960b).
Already, the work in the Torngat Mountains of northern Labrador (see also Løken, 1960, 1960, 1962) had challenged the prevailing paradigm, established by Professor Richard Flint, on the origins and eventual disappearance of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the ice ages. Extending the fieldwork to Baffin Island presumably would strengthen the challenge and greatly widen the scope of the research.
The Labrador-Ungava studies, however, had been conducted on a shoestring budget. Such a limited approach for the far more logistically demanding north-central Baffin Island would be impractical. My new appointment as assistant director of the Geographical Branch in 1960, therefore, was timely in terms of opening access to a much more generous level of funding.
Outline of a field research plan
From this account of the previous, limited, Baffin Island research it can be seen that during the 1960–1961 winter any field plan to evolve would be heavily influenced by the earlier research undertaken in Labrador-Ungava from the McGill Sub-Arctic Research Laboratory and the much more extensive work undertaken by Swedish and Norwegian scholars in Scandinavia. There would also be a significant dependency on study of the air photographs of Baffin Island. Nine separate targets had already been identified and put forward as part of my proposals to Dr. Nicholson in 1960. The bedrock of the agreement was the 1961 reconnaissance (see chapter 2). Even the slim Geographical Branch budget could be stretched to accommodate such an exploratory enterprise. I had been clearly informed that the scale of the long-range plan would depend both on the outcome of the proposed 1961 reconnaissance and on my success in using it to persuade the department for a substantial increase in the branch budget. It transpired that Dr. W. E. van Steenburgh10 became the key figure, and in retrospect, it seemed that he had personally adopted my scientific aspirations. This will become apparent in the chapters ahead.
THE NINE KEY TARGETS FOR PROPOSED BAFFIN ISLAND RESEARCH
1. To trace, as far as possible, the final phase of the last ice age in the Eastern Arctic setting of north-central Baffin Island. One overriding question was how far the Labrador-Ungava glacial and topographical analogy would apply, given the assumed difference in timing of thousands of years.
2. To determine whether the reconnaissance knowledge of the extensive moraine system that appeared to run parallel to the fiord heads of the northeast coast fitted into this broad analogy.
3. To map the extent of the prominent shorelines of what could be assumed to represent the margins of former ice-dammed lakes, to measure whether or not they were horizontal, and to determine the extent to which they would reflect the withdrawal of the late-glacial ice sheet.
4. To survey the heights of the uppermost marine shore features at several localities along the southwest coast fronting Foxe Basin and, if possible, collect marine mollusc shells (seashells) for radiocarbon dating.
5. To use any field evidence collected under items 3 and 4 for determination of interrelations between a wasting remnant of the Laurentide Ice Sheet, entry of salt water into an emerging Foxe Basin, and the pattern of isostatic uplift of the land.
6. To determine the causes of the remarkable pattern of light and dark tones on the landscape as seen on the air photographs characterizing wide areas north and east of the Barnes Ice Cap.
7. To study some of the hundreds of linear landforms that trend across the main valley floors in the same general area.
8. To examine recent fluctuations in the margins of the northern part of the Barnes Ice Cap.
9. To supplement all of the above by study of a cross-section of the “waist” of Baffin Island south of the Barnes Ice Cap.
As the area chosen for the 1961 reconnaissance was so remote and hitherto barely investigated, it was assumed that additional research topics would be recognized. Nevertheless, it should have been apparent that my ambitions could have been over-reaching in the extreme. Much would depend on good fortune, even the prior selections of principal field research localities in such a large and essentially unknown region.
As it turned out, choice of base camp locations proved largely successful, although a succession of near-disasters with a single-engined Cessna floatplane could have spelled failure (as will be detailed in chapter 2). Regardless, the large lake located some forty kilometres north-by-west of the northern end of the Barnes Ice Cap (Rimrock Lake: Figs. 2 and 3, pp. 14, 15) proved a vital and successful starting point. Here the air photos showed distinct glacial lake shorelines in close proximity to a large swath of the light- and dark-toned terrain pattern and innumerable examples of the narrow ridges that trended at right angles to the main valleys. The small lake, dammed by the northwestern margin of the Barnes Ice Cap (Flitaway Lake) was identified as the second critical site. Another area that needed investigation was the lower section of the Rowley River leading to Steensby Inlet. Here the air photos showed both raised marine shore features and glacial moraine systems. This pattern of landforms could be traced all the way down the Foxe Basin coast to the Fox-2 DEW Line station. Finally, a transect from Fox-2 across the entire waist of the island south of the ice cap appeared worthy of careful study as well as a short visit to a section of the extensive moraine system to the east of the ice cap. It was obvious to me at the time that these field plans were rather ambitious. The area chosen was huge and very little of it had been visited previously. The dates of lake ice breakup, critical for the amount of time we would be able to operate a floatplane, were unknown. Nevertheless, I thought it better to have too much rather than too little to accomplish.
In view of available resources, therefore, I decided to fly into Rimrock Lake by ski-equipped airplane early in the season and then transfer to Flitaway Lake and to Steensby Inlet once open water was available for a small floatplane. Vic Sim, a Geographical Branch colleague with previous Canadian Arctic experience, would tackle the transect south of the ice cap and work on the raised marine shore features north of Fox-2 along the Foxe Basin coast, possibly as far north as Steensby Inlet. Vic and I had spent many hours in the National Air Photo Library during the 1960–1961 winter and felt that we were reasonably well prepared. He decided to take Claude Lamothe as his student assistant. I would take two assistants: John Andrews, who had been with me as a graduate student at the McGill Lab and was completing his master’s degree in Montreal, and Peter Hill, a junior member of the branch staff, keen for Arctic experience. There would thus be a field team of five operating for the most part as two semi-independent units, ideally in contact by radio, despite being more than 150 kilometres apart for most of the season.