A large esker snakes across the land northwest of Rankin Inlet, forming a distinct ridge crowned with sandy blowouts, low tundra, and cobbled crests. To the south of this esker lies a chain of lakes that are nesting places for loons and long-tailed ducks. Sandhill cranes live along the edge of the sedge wetlands, prowling the area and the adjacent tundra flats for voles, lemmings and the nestlings of tundra birds. Larger mammals such as arctic hares, arctic foxes and caribou are seen here and occasionally, but rarely, a barren land grizzly bear or polar bear wanders through the area.
Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park encompasses the entire esker and part of the chain of lakes, extending across the Meliadine River (called ‘Iqalugaarjuk’ in Inuktitut) to the north. A park trail leads from the esker to Siksik Lake, then to a long peninsula that extends into Qamanayuk Lake. Walking trails branch off from the end of the maintained road. An Elders’ cabin and picnic area provides for great views of the esker, the river and the lakes. Midway through the park, a road branches to the north that leads to the river at picturesque Qamaviniqtalik — an ancient Thule and modern Inuit site located at rapids in the river.
The Meliadine esker is the most prominent landform in the Rankin Inlet area. It is a large sand and gravel ridge that runs east-west through the park. It was created during the great continental Laurentide glaciation of the Pleistocene epoch (1.8 million to 10,000 years ago) under an immense ice sheet that originated here along the western coast of Hudson Bay and covered most of Canada and northern United States.
North of the Meliadine esker flows the Meliadine River, which is called ‘Iqalugaarjuk’ in Inuktitut, meaning ‘river of little fishes,’ referring to the arctic grayling that frequent its shallow rapids.
A distinctive rocky outcrop called ‘Ijiraliq’ in Inuktitut forms a wall to the north. This is where the ‘ijirait’ — ‘shadow people’ live. The ‘ijirait’ are mystical beings that seem to live a parallel existence with modern people. Inuit believe that these beings can change their shapes, appear and vanish at will; often taking the form of animals or part animal, part human. They can be shadowy, at the edge of human perception, barely visible, hence the name ‘shadow people.’
At ‘Qamaviniktalik’ (‘place of old sod houses’), a walking trail descends from the hillside in a circle that allows visitors to get close to and observe ancient archaeological structures constructed by Inuit forefathers when they lived along the river. These structures include:
House depressions in the hillside, evidence of sod houses ('qarmat') which were dug into the ground, lined with stones, and roofed with skins supported by whalebones or driftwood poles.
Circular stone tent rings, used for anchoring caribou skin tents in the wind, with small stone hearths used to support soapstone pots for cooking.
Remnants of a 'kayak garage' ('qajakuvik') — a long stone chamber where a kayaks could be stored for the winter.
Stone fox traps ('pulat') located at the centre of a large tent ring — a stone chamber with a roof and stone braces that guided a stone door.
Hunting blinds ('talu') — crescent shaped structures of piled rocks facing the direction from which caribou are likely to come.
A drive to the park from Rankin Inlet usually takes fifteen minutes, depending on how frequently one stops to observe the beautiful scenery and hike around. The main road winds through a rocky outcrop area known as ‘Apache Pass’ that is crowned with many ‘inuksuit’ — distinctive Inuit cairns used as markers. It provides an excellent view of the inlet and the community. The road descends to cross Char River, a good fishing spot in springtime, then runs parallel to the western end of the esker.
It is possible to visit Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga during the winter and spring using snowmobiles, dog sleds or cross-country skis, but it is usually not accessible by automobile in these seasons due to deep snow — which also hides the ancient structures at Qamaviniqtalik.
It is most rewarding to visit the park in the early summer when the purple mountain saxifrage is blooming and many migratory birds have returned. Throughout the summer, each week brings a new spectacle with wildflowers blooming in profusion. Ground squirrels (‘siksik’) are commonly spotted, as are waterfowl, including loons, long-tailed ducks and tundra swans. Sandhill cranes are seen in the wetlands. Shorebirds frequent the river sandbars and the gravel ridges of the esker, while other birds like snow buntings, Lapland longspurs and redpolls live in the tundra. Rough-legged hawks nest in the park and are seen on a regular basis. The Rankin Inlet area has one of the healthiest peregrine falcon populations in the world, with 150 pairs nesting inside the park and along the island cliffs in the inlet. On late summer evenings, visitors may spot an arctic hare or an arctic fox. There is always a possibility in the late summer of seeing caribou from the road, depending on the whims of these migratory animals.
Getting to Rankin Inlet
First Air (seven days a week) and Calm Air (five days a week) provide jet service to Rankin Inlet from Winnipeg and Iqaluit. Calm Air also provides turboprop service to Rankin Inlet (seven days a week) that goes through Churchill and Arviat.
Getting to the Park
The hike to Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Territorial Park from Rankin Inlet is a long, but not uncomfortable trek of about 10 kilometres (six miles), plus another four kilometres (two and a half miles) to the Elder’s facility. The road along the top of the esker is very well drained, allowing for easy walking. The breeze at that height gets rid of any mosquitoes. Crossing from the Meliadine River on foot is not easy, but there are locations where the river can be traversed with proper footwear. Most visitors prefer to leave the north side of the river to the plants and wildlife, while enjoying the view from the south side.
For more information, check the Nunavut Parks website.