Mallikjuaq means ‘big wave’ in Inuktitut, an appropriate name for an island where rounded rock hills and low tundra valleys resemble giant rolling waves. While Mallikjuaq derives its name from its topography, its spirit comes from its ancient human history. Located conveniently close to the community of Cape Dorset, at Mallikjuaq Territorial Park visitors can view some excellent archaeological sites with ancient and historical stone structures, some of which date back three millennia.
At first glance, Mallikjuaq Island and Dorset Island seem barren yet they sustain many forms of arctic life. In July, wildflowers dapple the tundra with vivid colours and migratory birds return for the nesting season. Local Inuit travel to hunting camps along the shorelines of these islands at that time. The trails of Mallikjuaq Island and Dorset Island lead to these special places. Visitors can hike through gentle hills to secluded waterfalls and crystalline lakes, or relax in the sunshine along the shore to watch ice floes slowly drifting by.
A series of rocky islands that are richly colourful in summer, cold and starkly beautiful in winter, rise out of Hudson Strait along the southwest coast of Baffin Island near Cape Dorset. The two large islands — Dorset Island and Mallikjuaq Island — that constitute Mallikjuaq Territorial Park face each other across a narrow inlet.
Mallikjuaq Island has remained unchanged for centuries. Its low rocky mountains and sweeping tundra slopes contain traces of lives long past that are found in a number of historical and archaeological sites. There are artifacts of the Thule people from 1,000 years ago, of Inuit from 100 years ago and of Elder local residents from a generation ago. Hiking through the park, visitors will pass by the ancient remains of Thule houses, old fox traps and ‘inuksuit’ (distinctive Inuit cairns shaped like people), the bones of caribou and beluga whales hunted on and around the island, plus other artifacts from each of these periods. Onsite information panels detail all of these park attractions.
A thousand years ago, the Thule people lived on Mallikjuaq in low stone houses framed with whalebone ribs, which were roofed with hides and sod. The eastern end of the island contains the remains of nine winter houses with stone foundations still in place. Scattered throughout this area are the bones of whales, seals and walruses — vital resources for the Thule. Archaeological evidence indicates that earlier people from the Dorset Culture also inhabited the island for centuries before the Thule. The point of access to these ancient sites is the southeast shore of Mallikjuaq Island, from the beach, across the tundra to a large pond where the houses are.
Dorset Culture ('Tuniit' or 'Sivullirmiut'): 500 BC to 1500 AD
Thule Culture (Proto-Inuit): 1000 AD to 1600 AD
Inuit Culture (Eskimo): 1600 AD to present-day
The northwest coast of Mallikjuaq Island features a number of more contemporary, though no less interesting, stone features. Tent rings, fireplaces and meat cache sites here date back between 50 and 200 years. The ingenuity of native arctic people is illustrated by the many standing stone structures they created, such as kayak stands, fox traps, burial sites and ‘inuksuit.’ Local Inuit Elders ask visitors to please respect their ancient heritage by not disturbing these important sites and their artifacts — which are protected under Nunavut laws.
Getting to the community of Cape Dorset
First Air has regularly scheduled flights to Cape Dorset from Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet.
Getting to Mallikjuaq Territorial Park
In summer, local outfitters from Cape Dorset will take groups of up to three people on the 10-minute boat ride across the inlet for a guided tour of Mallikjuaq Island’s historic sites, plants and wildlife. These tours usually include a break for tea and bannock and some guides may also supply local foods such as caribou, char or seal. Make arrangements well in advance of a trip to Cape Dorset. Finding a guide on short notice is sometimes difficult.
Hiking to Mallikjuaq Island is a 45-minute trek from Cape Dorset to the northwestern tip of Dorset Island and across the tidal flats of Tellik Inlet. This hike — which is only possible at low tide — is for strong, agile walkers who are prepared for slippery, algae covered rocks and many puddles. Hikers must carefully time this trek with low tides. Check with the Mallikjuaq Park Visitor Centre in Cape Dorset to find out about the tides.
Mallikjuaq Park Visitor Centre — Cape Dorset
Ph: (867) 897-8996
Fax: (867) 897-8475
For more information, check the Nunavut Parks website.