Canada's Newest National Park Is Cloaked In Near-Perpetual Darkness

For several months each year, Bathurst Island is cloaked in perpetual darkness.

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Jun 25 2015, 6:45pm

Peary Caribou near Bathurst Island, Nunavut. Image: Derrick Midwinter/Flickr

For several months each year, Bathurst Island is cloaked in perpetual darkness. The sun simply doesn't breach the horizon. Until the summer, that is, when the balance shifts and the island is bathed in light for 24 hour days.

There aren't many places like this on earth, and it just so happens that this unique environment in Canada's high arctic is now the site of Qausuittuq, Canada's newest national park. Pronounced "Qow-soo-ee-tooq," it's not quite the most northern national park in the country, but it's close—beat only by Quttinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere Island, near the world's most northern settlement of Alert.

The creation of the park not only provides a sanctuary for the endangered Peary caribou, but ensures Inuit will be able to continue their subsistence hunts within the park. And the hope is it will become a viable destination for tourism, too.

Qausuittuq, which means the "place where the sun doesn't rise" in Inuktitut, is Canada's 45th national park

"It's great for travelling overland. There's no bushes, no trees to get in the way. All they've got is valleys and rivers and lowland areas," said Paul Amagoalik, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA)'s community director for Resolute Bay, and QIA spokesperson for the national park, which encompasses more than 11,000 square kilometres of Arctic lands and waters.

"You've got caribou, muskox, polar bears, foxes, owls, migratory birds and 24 hour sunlight in the summertime, 24 hour darkness in the middle of winter. So it's a different world up here."

Qausuittuq, which means the "place where the sun doesn't rise" in Inuktitut, is Canada's 45th national park, and over 20 years in the making. Originally to be called "Tuktusiuqvialuk," the idea was first proposed in 1994, and negotiations with inuit to create the park started in 2010.

Qausuittuq National Park in relation to Resolute, Nunavut, the park's nearest community. Image: VICE

"Imagine a cluster of islands in a frozen sea, a harsh but pristine arctic wilderness, the former home of the North magnetic Pole, a land on the edge of past human occupation, a home for the endangered Peary caribou, a traditional hunting and fishing area that has sustained the residents of the tiny community of Resolute Bay since the time of their relocation from northern Quebec in the 1950's," reads a page on Parks Canada's website, the government organization that manages the country's national parks. "Bathurst Island is all of that and more."

The park will be located north of Resolute Bay, Nunavut, on the northern section of Bathurst Island, and managed in cooperation with local Inuit. A Parks Canada office and visitor reception centre will be located to the south, in Resolute, Nunavut, the park's nearest community.

"We'll be setting up a joint park management committee which will consist of three people from the federal government and three people from the beneficiaries of the [Qausuittuq] region, which will oversee the management and establishment of the national park," Amagoalik said.

Canada's Minister of the Environment formally announced the park's establishment on June 24 under the Canada National Parks Act, after Bill C-72 legislating the creation of the park was passed unanimously earlier in the month.

The park's lengthy gestation period was due in part to multiple changes in government, a Parks Canada feasibility study, a Mineral and Energy Resource assessment, and an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement which were all required before the park's status could be confirmed. Going forward, Amagoalik hopes there will be an opening ceremony for Qausuittuq this summer, and that work will on infrastructure will commence within a year or two.