King William Island

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King William Island
Native name:
Wfm king william island.png
NASA Landsat satellite image of King William Island. North is to the upper left.
Canada Nunavut location map-lambert proj3.svg
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King William Island
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Red pog.svg
King William Island
Location Northern Canada
Coordinates 69°10′N97°25′W / 69.167°N 97.417°W / 69.167; -97.417 (King William Island) [1] Coordinates: 69°10′N97°25′W / 69.167°N 97.417°W / 69.167; -97.417 (King William Island) [2]
Archipelago Arctic Archipelago
Area13,174 km2 (5,087 sq mi) -13,111 km2 (5,062 sq mi)
Area rank 61st
Coastline1,466 km (910.9 mi)
Highest elevation141 m (463 ft)
Highest pointMount Matheson
Territory Nunavut
Largest settlement Gjoa Haven (pop. 1,349)
Population1,349 [3] (2021)
Pop. density0.1/km2 (0.3/sq mi)
Ethnic groups Inuit

King William Island (French : Île du Roi-Guillaume; previously: King William Land; Inuktitut : Qikiqtaq) [4] is an island in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut, which is part of the Arctic Archipelago. In area it is between 12,516 km2 (4,832 sq mi) [5] and 13,111 km2 (5,062 sq mi) [6] making it the 61st-largest island in the world and Canada's 15th-largest island. Its population, as of the 2021 census, was 1,349, [3] all of whom live in the island's only community, Gjoa Haven. [lower-alpha 1]


While searching for the Northwest Passage, a number of polar explorers visited, or spent their winters on, King William Island.


Map including King William Island Operational Navigation Chart C-11, 2nd edition.jpg
Map including King William Island

The island is separated from the Boothia Peninsula by the James Ross Strait to the northeast, and the Rae Strait to the east. To the west is the Victoria Strait and beyond it Victoria Island. Within the Simpson Strait, to the south of the island, is Todd Island, and beyond it, further to the south, is the Adelaide Peninsula. Queen Maud Gulf lies to the southwest.

Some places on the coast are: (counter clockwise from the northern tip) Cape Felix, Victory Point and Gore Point at the mouth of Collinson Inlet, Point Le Vesconte, Erebus Bay, Cape Crozier, (south side) Terror Bay, Irving Islands, Washington Bay, Cape Herschel, Gladman Point, entrance to Simpson Strait, Todd Islets, (east side) Gjoa Haven, Matheson Peninsula, Latrobe Bay, Cape Norton at mouth of Peel Inlet, Matty Island, Tennent Islands, Clarence Islands, Cape Felix. [8]


The island is known for its large populations of Barren-ground caribou, which summer there before migrating in the autumn by walking south over the sea ice.

Role in Arctic exploration

Sir James Clark Ross

The island was long occupied by Inuit, who had a culture adapted to the extreme environment. In 1830, the British explorer James Clark Ross named it "King William Land" for King William IV the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; Ross thought at the time that it was a peninsula. [9] [10] Some sources credit his uncle, John Ross with naming the land. [11] In 1834, George Back, another Arctic explorer, viewed its south shore from Chantrey Inlet and eventually recognised it as an island.

Sir John Franklin

Summer camp of Sir John Franklin 5.3 km (3.3 mi) south of Cape Felix Franklin Summer camp.jpg
Summer camp of Sir John Franklin 5.3 km (3.3 mi) south of Cape Felix

Sir John Franklin, another British explorer, made an Arctic expedition looking for the Northwest Passage about a decade later; his two ships became stranded in 1846 when frozen in the sea ice northwest of the island. After abandoning the two ships, most of the crew died from exposure and starvation as they attempted to walk south near the western coastline. Two of Franklin's men were buried at Hall Point on the island's south coast. The ships were believed lost forever, as many subsequent expeditions were unable to find them.

It was not until June 29, 1981, that researchers finally had luck. A team led by Canadian archaeologist Owen Beattie, found 31 pieces of human bone fragments on the southern tip of the island, called Booth Point. [12]

On September 9, 2014, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the Victoria Strait Expedition had located one of Franklin's two ships beneath shallow waters south of King William Island. It is preserved in very good condition; the side-scan sonar could detect the deck planking. [13] [14] By the beginning of October, the wreck had been identified as HMS Erebus. [15] The other expedition vessel, HMS Terror, was found in 2016 in Terror Bay, off the south-west coast of King William Island. [16]

George Porter

George Porter was born on a whaling ship near Herschel Island in 1895 to Mary Kappak and W.P.S. Porter. George was schooled in Alaska. In 1913 he was a sailor on the Elvira and travelled with the explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson. After briefly working as a reindeer herder in Siberia, he enlisted with the US military near the end of the First World War. In 1919, George was discharged from the Army in Iowa. In 1921 George sailed to Australia. Later George guided Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) commander Henry Larsen on many trips. George Porter eventually made Gjoa Haven on King William Island his home, where he worked as the manager of the Hudson's Bay Company trading post for a career of 25 years. [17]

Roald Amundsen

In 1903, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, looking for the Northwest Passage, sailed through the James Ross Strait and stopped at a natural harbour on the island's south coast. Unable to proceed due to sea ice, he spent the winters of 1903–1904 and 1904–1905 there. During his stays, he learned Arctic living skills from the local Netsilik. He used his ship Gjøa as a base for explorations in the summer of 1904, during which he travelled by dogsled on the Boothia Peninsula and to the North Magnetic Pole. After 22 months on the island, Amundsen left in August 1905. The harbour where he lived has the island's only settlement, Gjoa Haven. Amundsen used skills learned from the Inuit when he made his later expedition to the South Pole.[ citation needed ]


Like many places in the high Arctic the island has a tundra climate (Köppen: ET), its winter is long and cold and the summers are cool, melting part of the ice; with low precipitation, it is a "cold desert". [18]

Climate data for Gjoa Haven (Gjoa Haven Airport)
Climate ID: 2302335; coordinates 68°38′08″N95°51′01″W / 68.63556°N 95.85028°W / 68.63556; -95.85028 (Gjoa Haven Airport) ; elevation: 46.9 m (154 ft); 1981–2010 normals
Record high humidex −7.4−11.3−−1.4−1.926.7
Record high °C (°F)−6.0
Average high °C (°F)−30.4
Daily mean °C (°F)−33.8
Average low °C (°F)−37.1
Record low °C (°F)−48.3
Record low wind chill −64.2−65.3−64.5−54.0−38.1−21.90.0−12.9−21.2−48.1−55.0−62.5−65.3
Average precipitation mm (inches)8.3
Average rainfall mm (inches)0.0
Average snowfall cm (inches)9.7
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.2 mm)
Average rainy days (≥ 0.2 mm)
Average snowy days (≥ 0.2 cm)
Average relative humidity (%)62.663.970.377.785.981.970.775.882.387.776.766.775.2
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada Canadian Climate Normals 1981–2010 [19]
Climate data for Gladman Point Airport (abandoned DEW Line site, CAM-2)
68°40′N97°48′W / 68.667°N 97.800°W / 68.667; -97.800 (Gladman Point A) elevation: 25 m (82 ft), 1961-1990 normals
Record high °C (°F)−5.0
Average high °C (°F)−30.8
Daily mean °C (°F)−34.2
Average low °C (°F)−38.3
Record low °C (°F)−50.0
Average precipitation mm (inches)1.7
Average rainfall mm (inches)0.0
Average snowfall cm (inches)1.7
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.2 mm)2223658101084263
Average rainy days (≥ 0.2 mm)000tracetrace3895trace0026
Average snowy days (≥ 0.2 cm)222352trace1584238
Source: Environment and Climate Change Canada Canadian Climate Normals 1961-1990 [20]


  1. The surrounding Census Subdivision, [7] which includes the rest of King William Island, has a population of 0.

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  1. "King William Island". Geographical Names Data Base . Natural Resources Canada.
  2. "King William Island". Geographical Names Data Base . Natural Resources Canada.
  3. 1 2 "Census Profile, 2021 Census of Population Profile table Gjoa Haven, Hamlet (HAM) Nunavut [Census subdivision]". Statistics Canada. 26 April 2022. Retrieved 10 June 2022.
  4. Darren Keith, Jerry Arqviq (November 23, 2006). "Environmental Change, Polar Bears and Adaptation in the East Kitikmeot: An Initial Assessment Final Report" (PDF). Kitikmeot Heritage Society. Archived from the original on March 26, 2009. Retrieved January 1, 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  5. "King William Island". Atlas of Canada . Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  6. "Other Arctic Islands". Atlas of Canada. Archived from the original on January 22, 2013. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  7. "Kitikmeot, Unorganized" . Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  8. Page 2 fig. 1 in Keenleyside, A., M. Bertulli, and H. C. Fricke. 1997. "The Final Days of the Franklin Expedition: New Skeletal Evidence". Arctic. 50, no. 1: 36.
  9. King William Island at Encyclopædia Britannica
  10. Ross, Sir James Clark at the Dictionary of Canadian Biography
  11. King William Island at The Canadian Encyclopedia
  12. Beattie, Owen; Atwood, Margaret; Davis, Wade; Geiger, John (2017). Frozen in time: the fate of the Franklin expedition. ISBN   978-1-77164-173-9. OCLC   991530889.
  13. "Toronto Star: Ship from lost Franklin expedition found". 2014-09-09. Retrieved 2014-09-09.
  14. "Lost Franklin expedition ship found in the Arctic". CBC. 2014-09-09. Retrieved 2014-09-09.
  15. "Canada identifies long lost British explorer ship". The Daily Telegraph . 2014-10-01. Retrieved 2014-10-02.
  16. "The Guardian:Ship found in Arctic 168 years after doomed Northwest Passage attempt". The Guardian . 2016-09-12. Retrieved 2016-09-12.
  17. "Inuktitut" (PDF). March 1983. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  18. Reconnaissance Geology of Portions of Victoria Island and Adjacent Regions Arctic Canada. Geological Society of America. 1947. ISBN   9780813710228.
  19. "Gjoa Haven A". Canadian Climate Normals 1981–2010. Environment and Climate Change Canada. Climate ID: 2302335. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
  20. "Gladman Point A". 1961-1990 Canadian Climate Normals. Environment and Climate Change Canada. Climate ID: 2302335. Retrieved 2019-07-15.

Further reading