Herschel Island (Inuit: Qikiqtaruk) is an island in the Beaufort
Sea (part of the
Arctic Ocean), which lies 5 km (3.1 mi) off
the coast of
Yukon in Canada, of which it is administratively a part.
It is Yukon's only offshore island.
1 Early history
2 The whaling period
3 The Arctic's first trial
4 Missionaries, police, and traders
5 Modern developments
8 Fish and marine mammals
9 Land mammals
13 Climate change threats
14 See also
16 External links
The earliest evidence of human occupation unearthed so far by
archaeological investigations is that of the Thule culture, dating to
approximately 1000 years ago. These people are the ancestors of the
present-day Inuvialuit. The
Inuvialuktun word for Herschel Island
is "Qikiqtaruk", which simply means "island".
The first European to sight the island was explorer Sir John Franklin,
who named it on 15 July 1826. It is not clear after whom the island
was named. Franklin’s journal records states that he wished to
honour the name Herschel, of which three persons are notable for their
scientific accomplishments: Sir William Herschel, his sister Caroline
Herschel, and his son Sir John Herschel.; At the time of Franklin's
explorations there were three
Inuvialuit settlements on Herschel
Island. Estimates of the number of people living on the island (and
Yukon North Slope) at that time ranged from 200 to 2000. The
island was used as a base for hunting, fishing and whaling.
The whaling period
In the late 19th century, whalers discovered that the
Beaufort Sea was
one of the last refuges of the depleted bowhead whale, which was
prized for its baleen, blubber, and oil. Commercial bowhead hunting in
the area began in 1889. In order for the short
Arctic whaling season
to be profitable, it was necessary to overwinter in the area. Herschel
Island was found to have a good harbour for large whaling ships. In
1890 a Euro-American settlement was established at Pauline Cove. At
the height of the
Beaufort Sea whaling period (1893–94) the number
of residents on the island was estimated at 1,500, making it the
Yukon community at that time. Though several frame buildings
had been constructed, most residents continued to live on whaling
In 1893, the Pacific Steam
Whaling Company (PSW Co.) constructed a
building called the Community House at Pauline Cove. With a recreation
room, an office for the manager and storekeeper, and storage
facilities, the Community House became the most prominent building on
the island. In 1896 the company offered the house to the Anglican
church, who used the building until 1906.
Francis Joseph Fitzgerald
Francis Joseph Fitzgerald was the first North-West Mounted
Police (NWMP) officer assigned to the area, who later died in the
famous "Lost Patrol".
In 1911, the Royal
North-West Mounted Police
North-West Mounted Police purchased all Herschel
Island assets of the PSW Co. for $1,500. The Community House still
stands, and is believed to be the oldest frame building in Yukon. It
remains in excellent condition, and is now used as a park office and
The Arctic's first trial
The first court case held in the Canadian
Arctic took place at Pauline
Cove in 1924 in a building known as the Bonehouse, which was built in
the mid-1890s as a storehouse for baleen (whalebone). Court officials
Edmonton for the trial of two
Inuvialuit men charged
with murder. Jury members were chosen in Fort McPherson,
River (now Tsiigehtchic) and Herschel Island. The men were found
guilty, and were hanged from a tie beam in the Bonehouse. The tie beam
was removed by the RCMP when they left the island in 1963.
Francis Joseph Fitzgerald, first RCMP officer assigned to Herschel
Missionaries, police, and traders
Isaac Stringer first visited
Herschel Island in
1893. He returned with his wife in 1896, and ministered to the people
there until his departure in 1901. Stringer and other missionaries
attempted to build a church on the island, but were not successful. A
mission house was constructed in 1916 by Reverend Whittaker. This
building still stands, but is in poor condition.
In 1903 RCMP
Inspector Francis J. Fitzgerald visited Herschel Island.
The following year, he and
Constable Sutherland established a
detachment on the island, which was at first based in two small sod
huts. From 1910 to 1931
Herschel Island was subdistrict headquarters
for the RCMP in the Western Arctic. Command was transferred to Aklavik
in 1931, and
Herschel Island was patrolled intermittently until 1948,
when the detachment was reopened on a seasonal basis. On February 16,
Herschel Island suffered its first loss of a police officer.
Constable Alexander Lamont age 30, Badge Number 5548 Royal Northwest
Mounted Police died of a duty related illness.
Constable Lamont died
from typhoid fever at Hershel Island, Yukon, while attending to the
needs of another victim of the disease. Sadly, on July 14, 1958,
Herschel Island suffered another loss of a police officer. Constable
Carl Lennart Sundell, aged 24 years, was stationed on board the RCMP
supply schooner HERSCHEL at the time of his death and died as a result
of an accidental shooting. He was shot while boarding the vessel which
was in a cradle onshore for repairs. The RCMP post was closed
permanently in 1964.
In 1915 the
Hudson's Bay Company
Hudson's Bay Company sent Mr. Christy Harding to Herschel
Island to establish a post. Soon after his arrival he constructed a
store, house, warehouse, and several other buildings. Business at the
post was never lucrative. In 1937 the Bay closed its doors on the
island, and its buildings were abandoned. None of them remain.
In 1926 the Northern
Whaling and Trading Company constructed a store,
warehouse and small shed on the island. These buildings still stand,
though in recent years they have been moved as much as 10 meters
inland, away from the receding shoreline.
While the island did see some renewed activity in the 1970s when it
became a temporary safe harbour for oil-drilling ships, its last
permanent, year-round residents (the MacKenzie family) left in 1987.
Inuvialuit still use the island seasonally for hunting, fishing, and
as a place to camp while travelling.
In 1978, a land claims agreement was reached in principle between the
Inuvialuit and the Government of Canada. By 1984, the
Agreement (IFA) was in place. In 1987,
Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park was
created by the Government of
Yukon in accordance with the terms of the
IFA. The Government of
Yukon and the
Inuvialuit share responsibility
for planning, managing, and protecting Herschel Island's natural and
NASA Landsat pseudocolour photo of Herschel Island
Herschel Island has an area of 116 km2 (45 sq mi). It
is approximately 15 km (9.3 mi) by 8 km (5.0 mi)
between shorelines, with a rolling tundra terrain that ranges in
height from sea level to 182 m (596 ft).
The island was created from sediments that were thrust up by a lobe of
Laurentide glacier ice emanating from the Mackenzie Valley and moving
westward along the coastal plain approximately 30,000 years ago. There
is no bedrock core to the island. The island is subject to very high
rates of coastal erosion due to the ice-rich nature of the underlying
permafrost, and its surface heaves and rolls down its own hillsides
from the effects of frost creep and solifluction.
Herschel Island's climate is characterized by long, cold winters
followed by short, but intense summers. Strong steady winds are
prevalent throughout the year. July is the warmest month, with a mean
temperature of 7.4 °C (45.3 °F) and a mean daytime high of
12.8 °C (55 °F), but can reach as high as 30 °C
(86 °F). January temperatures average -27 °C
(-16.6 °F) to -30 °C (-22 °F), but temperatures have
been known to reach as low as -50 °C (-58 °F).
From November to early June,
Herschel Island is locked in ice. Located
north of the
Herschel Island enjoys continuous daylight
every year between May 19 and July 24. The sun does not appear above
the horizon from November 29 to January 14, but significant twilight
is experienced for a few hours in the late morning and early afternoon
during the latter period.
Fish and marine mammals
The waters around
Herschel Island are a haven for fish and marine
Mackenzie River flows into the
Beaufort Sea southeast of
the island. Its warm, nutrient-rich waters drift westward along the
mainland shore as far as Herschel.
Zooplankton feed on these
nutrients, and are in turn eaten by larger fish, seals, and whales.
Pacific herring and
Arctic flounder are all
found in this area.
Whales travel past
Herschel Island on their seasonal migration.
Bowhead whales can still be seen from Herschel as they migrate
westward to the
Bering Sea in September, feeding close to the surface
on krill. Beluga whales are also seen from the island during the open
water period. Ringed seals are the most common marine mammals in this
part of the Arctic, feeding on fish along the edges of the ice during
the summer months.
The polar bear is a major predator of ringed seals. In summer they
live along the edges of the pack ice near the island. In winter, a few
female bears den on the island's northern slopes.
Small herds of
Porcupine caribou (or Grant's caribou, Rangifer
tarandus grantii) are frequently found on the island in summer.
Muskox, and grizzly bears are occasionally seen, crossing to Herschel
from the mainland. Lemmings, tundra voles and
Arctic shrews are
common. Red and
Arctic foxes are also known to den on the island.
Arctic fox dens are found each year on the island, usually one
or two, but occasionally more. Red foxes also reproduce on the
island but natal red fox dens are not observed every year.
At least 94 bird species have been counted on Herschel Island, 40 of
which breed there. The island hosts the largest colony of black
guillemots in the western Arctic, nesting in the old Anglican mission
Arctic terns, American golden plovers, and red-necked
phalaropes make use of the tundra ponds and shingle beaches. Other
birds that breed on the island include the common eider, rough-legged
hawk, snow bunting, Lapland bunting, and redpoll.
Herschel Island is situated in the
Yukon Coastal Plain ecoregion. The
vegetation of this ecoregion is described as
Arctic tundra, with
continuous ground cover and no trees present. There are over 200
species of plants on Herschel Island, which occur in a diversity of
habitats. Most of the island is composed of level to gently sloping
stable uplands, vegetated by cottongrass, ground shrubs and
From late June to early August,
Herschel Island witnesses an explosion
of colour. Its humid maritime climate during the growing season
fosters a lush growth of tundra flowers, including vetches,
Arctic lupines, arnicas, and forget-me-nots.
Herschel Island Territorial Park, together with Ivvavik National Park
Vuntut National Park
Vuntut National Park (both on the
Yukon mainland), is a leading
contender to become Canada's next
UNESCO World Heritage Site. The
region is on Canada’s tentative list for a
UNESCO nomination in both
the cultural and natural categories.
Climate change threats
In 2007 the
UNESCO World Heritage Centre published a report called
Case Studies on Climate Change and World Heritage. The report states
that a decrease in sea ice, and consequent increase in coastal
erosion, poses a serious threat to Herschel Island's historic
World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund has placed
Herschel Island on
its 100 Most Endangered Sites, 2008 watch list, citing "rising sea
levels, eroding coastline and melting permafrost" as imminent
Coastal erosion is up to 3 metres (9.8 ft) per
year in parts of the island’s coastline. There are several
active thaw slumps of considerable size along the south-eastern shore
of the island and they have increased in abundance and size over the
last fifty years.
List of islands of Canada
Geography of Yukon
Ivvavik National Park, on mainland just south of island
^ Zielinski, Sarah (March 2009). "Endangered Site: Herschel Island,
Canada". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
^ Issenman, Betty. Sinews of Survival: The living legacy of Inuit
clothing. UBC Press, 1997. pp252-254
^ Analysis of midden material from a Thule Eskimo dwelling site on the
shore of Herschel Island
^ a b Burn, C. R. (2009) "After whom is
Herschel Island named"? Arctic
Constable Alexander Lamont". The Officer Down Memorial Page
Remembers . . . The Officer Down Memorial Page, Inc. Retrieved
Constable Carl Lennart Sundell Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
Federal". Odmp.org. 1958-07-14. Retrieved 2010-09-12.
^ Ruttan, R. A.; Wooley, D. R. (1974). "A study of furbearers
associated with proposed pipeline routes in the
Yukon Territory and
Mackenzie River Valley, 1971". Biological Report Series, Canadian
Arctic Gas Study Limited and Alaskan
Arctic Gas Study Company. Volume
^ a b Smits, C. M. M.; Slough, B. G. (1993) "Abundance and summer
occupancy of arctic fox, Alopex lagopus, and red fox, Vulpes vulpes,
dens in the northern
Yukon Territory, 1984-1990". The Canadian
^ "Case Studies on Climate Change. p. 58. (13 MB PDF)" (PDF). UNESCO.
^ "On the
World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund endangered list". LA Times. June 8,
2007. Retrieved 2008-09-03.
World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund Unveils 2008 Watch List". World Monuments
Fund. Retrieved 2008-09-03.
^ a b Lantuit, H.; Pollard, W. H. (2008) "Fifty years of coastal
erosion and retrogressive thaw slump activity on Herschel Island,
southern Beafort Sea,
Yukon Territory, Canada". Geomorphology
Herschel Island Virtual Museum
The Force in the North The RCMP on Herschel
The Bishop Who Ate His Boots
Isaac Stringer Virtual Museum
Herschel Island Territorial Park
Yukon Department of Environment
100 Most Endangered Sites, 2008
North Star of Herschel Island
Beaufort Sea Islands
Mc Clure Island
Prince Patrick Island
World Heritage Sites in Canada
Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump
Kluane / Wrangell–St. Elias /
Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek1
Glacier International Peace Park1
Joggins Fossil Cliffs
L'Anse aux Meadows
Old Town Lunenburg
Atikaki / Woodland Caribou / Accord First Nations
Ivvavik / Vuntut /
Herschel Island (Qikiqtaruk)
Burgess Shale (1981-1984 now part of Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks
1 Shared with the USA
2 Shared with other region/s