Belcher Islands

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Belcher Islands
Native name:
Belcher Islands, Nunavut (red).
Canada Nunavut location map-lambert proj3.svg
Red pog.svg
Belcher Islands
Canada location map 2.svg
Red pog.svg
Belcher Islands
Location Hudson Bay
Coordinates 56°11′N79°15′W / 56.183°N 79.250°W / 56.183; -79.250 [1] Coordinates: 56°11′N79°15′W / 56.183°N 79.250°W / 56.183; -79.250 [2]
ArchipelagoBelcher Islands Archipelago
Total islands1,500
Major islands Flaherty Island, Kugong Island, Tukarak Island, Innetalling Island
Area2,896 km2 (1,118 sq mi)
Territory Nunavut
Region Qikiqtaaluk
Population882 (2016)
Pop. density0.30/km2 (0.78/sq mi)
Ethnic groups Inuit

The Belcher Islands (Inuktitut : ᓴᓪᓚᔪᒐᐃᑦ, Sanikiluaq) [3] are an archipelago in the southeast part of Hudson Bay near the centre of the Nastapoka arc. The Belcher Islands are spread out over almost 3,000 km2 (1,200 sq mi). Administratively, they belong to the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada. The hamlet of Sanikiluaq (where the majority of the archipelago's inhabitants live) is on the north coast of Flaherty Island and is the southernmost in Nunavut. Along with Flaherty Island, the other large islands are Kugong Island, Tukarak Island, and Innetalling Island. [4] Other main islands in the 1,500–island archipelago are Moore Island, Wiegand Island, Split Island, Snape Island and Mavor Island, while island groups include the Sleeper Islands, King George Islands, and Bakers Dozen Islands. [5]



The archaeological evidence present on the islands indicates that they were inhabited by the Dorset culture between 500 BCE and 1000 CE. Centuries later, from 1200 to 1500, the Thule people made their presence on the islands. [6]

The first European to discover the islands was English sea explorer Henry Hudson, the namesake of Hudson Bay, who sighted the island in 1610. [7] The islands are named after Royal Navy Admiral Sir Edward Belcher (1799-1877).

In the early 19th century, caribou herds which lived on the islands disappeared. In an alternative effort to find warm clothing, the inhabitants of the islands sought the down of the Eider duck, a species of bird which nests on the island. [6]

Before 1914, English-speaking cartographers knew very little about the Belcher Islands, which they showed on maps as specks, much smaller than their true extent. In that year a map showing them, drawn by George Weetaltuk, [8] came into the hands of Robert Flaherty, and cartographers began to represent them more accurately. [9]

In 1941, a religious movement led by Charley Ouyerack, Peter Sala, and his sister Mina caused the death by blows or exposure of nine persons, an occurrence that came to be known as the Belcher Island Murders. [10] [11]


Folded Proterozoic dolomites in the Belcher (Sanikiluaq) Islands Sanikiluaq rocks -d.jpg
Folded Proterozoic dolomites in the Belcher (Sanikiluaq) Islands
Thin-bedded Proterozoic sedimentary rocks near Sanikiluaq hamlet. These rocks are about 2 billion years old. Width of bottom of photo is about 5 metres. Sanikiluaq rocks.jpg
Thin-bedded Proterozoic sedimentary rocks near Sanikiluaq hamlet. These rocks are about 2 billion years old. Width of bottom of photo is about 5 metres.

General geology

The geologic units of the Belcher Group, which forms the Belcher Islands, were deposited during the Paleoproterozoic. Combined with other Paleoproterozoic units that occur along the edge of the Superior Craton, the Belcher Group forms part of the Circum-Superior Belt. [12]

From youngest to oldest, the Belcher Group is composed of: [13] [14]

The oldest part of the Belcher Group, the Kasegalik Formation, was deposited between 2.0185 and 2.0154 billion years ago. [15] The Kasegalik Formation also contains the oldest unambiguous Cyanobacteria microfossils. [16] Much of the Belcher Group strata were deposited under intertidal to shallow-water conditions, although the Mavor Formation formed a platform margin stromatolite reef complex, [17] and the overlying Costello and Laddie formations represent slope and deep basin deposits, respectively. [15] [17] The Kipalu Formation, deposited approximately 1.88 billion years ago, is notable for being a granular iron formation. [13] [14] The Flaherty Formation basalt that composes much of the Belcher Islands was deposited between 1.87 and 1.854 billion years ago, [15] with the overlying Omarolluk and Loaf formations being deposited from 1.854 billion years ago until sometime after 1.83 billion years ago. [15] [18]


The occurrence of very high-quality soapstone in the Belcher Islands supports a locally significant carving industry. [19] These soapstone occurrences formed when sedimentary rocks of the Belcher Group were intruded by Haig sills and dykes approximately 1.87 billion years ago. [19] Most soapstone is quarried from a site on western Tukarak Island where dolomite of the Costello Formation was intruded by hot magma, [19] with dolomite reacting with quartz and water under intense heat to form talc, calcite, and carbon dioxide:

3CaMg(CO3)2 + 4SiO2 + H2O → [Heat] Mg3Si4O10(OH)2 + 3CaCO3 + 3CO2

Other minerals within the soapstone are largely calcite, dolomite, talc, and chlinochlore, with minor amounts of ilmenite.

Although most soapstone has been sourced from two quarries, the relatively widespread occurrence of Haig intrusions within the Belcher Islands suggests that there may be many more possible sources of high-quality soapstone not yet discovered. [20]


Landsat satellite photo of Belcher Islands Belcherislands.jpg
Landsat satellite photo of Belcher Islands

Several species of willow ( Salix ) form a large component of the native small shrubbery on the archipelago. These include rock willow ( Salix vestita ), bog willow ( S. pedicellaris ), and Labrador willow ( S. argyrocarpa ), as well as naturally occurring hybrids between S. arctica and S. glauca . [21] Trees cannot grow on the islands because of a lack of adequate soil. [22]


The main wildlife consists of belugas, walrus, caribou, common eiders and snowy owls all of which can be seen on the island year round. There is also a wide variety of fish that can be caught such as Arctic char, cod, capelin, lump fish, and sculpin. [23] The historical relationship between the Sanikiluaq community and the eider is the subject of a feature-length Canadian documentary film called People of a Feather . The director, cinematographer and biologist Joel Heath, spent seven years on the project, writing biological articles on the eider. [24] [25]

In 1998, the Belcher Island caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) herd numbered 800. [26]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Canadian Shield</span> Geographic and geologic area of North America

The Canadian Shield, also called the Laurentian Plateau, is a geologic shield, a large area of exposed Precambrian igneous and high-grade metamorphic rocks. It forms the North American Craton, the ancient geologic core of the North American continent. Glaciation has left the area with only a thin layer of soil, through which exposures of igneous bedrock resulting from its long volcanic history are frequently visible. As a deep, common, joined bedrock region in eastern and central Canada, the Shield stretches north from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean, covering over half of Canada and most of Greenland; it also extends south into the northern reaches of the United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hudson Bay</span> Large body of saltwater in northeastern Canada

Hudson Bay, sometimes called Hudson's Bay, is a large body of saltwater in northeastern Canada with a surface area of 1,230,000 km2 (470,000 sq mi). It is located north of Ontario, west of Quebec, northeast of Manitoba and southeast of Nunavut, but politically entirely part of Nunavut. Although not geographically apparent, it is for climatic reasons considered to be a marginal sea of the Arctic Ocean. It drains a very large area, about 3,861,400 km2 (1,490,900 sq mi), that includes parts of southeastern Nunavut, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, all of Manitoba, and parts of the U.S. states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana. Hudson Bay's southern arm is called James Bay.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Qikiqtaaluk Region</span> Region of Nunavut, Canada

The Qikiqtaaluk Region, Qikiqtani Region or Baffin Region is the easternmost, northernmost, and southernmost administrative region of Nunavut, Canada. Qikiqtaaluk is the traditional Inuktitut name for Baffin Island. Although the Qikiqtaaluk Region is the most commonly used name in official contexts, several notable public organizations, including Statistics Canada prefer the older term Baffin Region.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sanikiluaq</span> Place in Nunavut, Canada

Sanikiluaq is a municipality and Inuit community located on the north coast of Flaherty Island in Hudson Bay, on the Belcher Islands. Despite being geographically much closer to the shores of Ontario and Quebec, the community and the Belcher Islands lie within the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mansel Island</span>

Mansel Island, a member of the Arctic Archipelago, is an uninhabited island in Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut. It is located in Hudson Bay off of Quebec's Ungava Peninsula. At 3,180 km2 (1,230 sq mi) in size, it is the 159th largest island in the world, and Canada's 28th largest island.

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Peter Kattuk was a Canadian politician from Nunavut.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flaherty Island</span> Island in Canada

Flaherty Island is the largest island of the Belcher Islands group in Hudson Bay in Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada.

Moore Island is an uninhabited island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. It is a member of the Belcher Islands group in Hudson Bay. It lies in Churchill Sound between Kugong Island to its west and the Howard Peninsula of Flaherty Island to its east with the Inuit community of Sanikiluaq about 30 km (19 mi) northeast.

Innetalling Island is an uninhabited island in Qikiqtaaluk Region, Nunavut, Canada. Located in Hudson Bay's Omarolluk Sound, it is a member of the Belcher Islands group. It runs from Fairweather Sound at its northern end to Ridge Passage at its southern one. Fairweather Harbour is located on the north end of the island's east side.

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  15. 1 2 3 4 Hodgskiss, Malcolm S. W.; Dagnaud, Olivia M. J.; Frost, Jamie L.; Halverson, Galen P.; Schmitz, Mark D.; Swanson-Hysell, Nicholas L.; Sperling, Erik A. (2019-08-15). "New insights on the Orosirian carbon cycle, early Cyanobacteria, and the assembly of Laurentia from the Paleoproterozoic Belcher Group". Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 520: 141–152. Bibcode:2019E&PSL.520..141H. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2019.05.023. ISSN   0012-821X. S2CID   197578328.
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  19. 1 2 3 Timlick, L. (2017). "Comparative study of the petrogenesis of excellent-quality carving stone from Korok Inlet, southern Baffin Island, and the Belcher Islands, Nunavut" (PDF). Summary of Activities via Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office.
  20. Steenkamp, H.M. (2016). "Geological mapping and petrogenesis of carving stone in the Belcher Islands, Nunavut" (PDF). Summary of Activities via Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office.
  21. Flora of North America. Vol. 7. Oxford University Press. 2010. pp. 64, 80, 83, 115. ISBN   9780195318227 . Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  22. Belcher Islands
  23. Belcher Island Kayak Tour
  24. "People of a Feather (2011)". IMDBaccessdate=8 February 2012. 8 November 2013.
  25. "People of a Feather" . Retrieved 8 February 2012.
  26. Mallory, F.F.; Hillis, T.L. (1998), "Demographic characteristics of circumpolar caribou populations: ecotypes, ecological constraints/releases, and population dynamics", Rangifer (Special Issue 10): 9–60, retrieved 18 December 2013

Further reading