About Coral Harbour

Coral Harbour is located on Southampton Island in the northern reaches of Hudson Bay at N64 08' W83 10'. Its Inuktitut name, Salliq, translates roughly as “the flat island in front of the mainland” (the Inuktitut name for the island and the community is the same). Coral Harbour is almost equidistant (330 km) from Repulse Bay to the North, Cape Dorset to the East, Ivujivik Quebec to the Southeast and Chesterfield Inlet to the West. The name Coral Harbour is derived from the fact that one can find pieces of pink fossilized coral in the water near town.

The Inuit of Coral Harbour represent different cultural groups that moved here from the Kivalliq mainland, the Baffin Island area and Northern Quebec. Coral Harbour is a community with a strong sense of culture and a place where Inuktitut is still the first language in most households. It is a dry community, meaning that the possession and consumption of alcohol is prohibited. The people believe such a policy helps to keep the community strong.

A fascinating aspect of Southampton Island relates to its original inhabitants whom the archaeologists call Sallirmiut (the Inuit refer to them as Tuniit). These reclusive people appear to have been a mix between the Thule (who were last seen elsewhere in the 1700’s) and the Dorset, who disappeared long before the Thule. The Sallirmiut lived in isolation from other Inuit, but eventually were wiped out by a Typhus epidemic, which was brought to them by a crew member of the Scottish Whaler Active in 1902. One can still see the remains of their camps at various sites on the island. The high school students make a regular trip each spring to camp at Native Point, which was the largest Sallirmiut site.

Southampton Island was first sighted by the explorer Thomas Button in 1604. He named it in honour of his benefactor, The Earl of Southampton, who sponsored his search for the Northwest Passage. In 1924 the Hudson Bay Company decided to move their post from Coats Island to Southampton Island and chose the current site of Coral Harbour as its location. Ironically, the manager of the post at Chesterfield Inlet had also decided to move a structure to Southampton Island and chose the same site. Without any kind of communication the two groups arrived in the same place within days of each other.

An Anglican and Roman Catholic Mission were built several years after the establishment of the post. Inuit from the Baffin and Quebec areas tended to be Anglican while those from the mainland were primarily Catholic.

The U.S. Airforce built a base on Southampton Island during World War II as part of their Crimson Route. It was a plan for bringing short-range fighter planes to Europe via Churchill, Coral Harbour, Frobisher Bay (Iqaluit), Greenland and Iceland. The base was built 11 km from the Hudson Bay Company’s post, but was not really put to much use during the war. It was used as a depot site in the Cold War construction of the DEW Line further north. Materials were brought by ship to Coral Harbour and then flown to places like Pelly Bay, which were icebound well into the summer. The majority of the people still lived in a nomadic lifestyle around the island until 1950 when the Federal Day School was built near the Hudson Bay Company’s post. The last 50 years have seen the community grow at a rapid rate with much construction and expansion of services. The birth of Nunavut in 1999 has brought with it many changes in the area of self-control for Inuit.

Population : 1,043