What is most intriguing about Gjoa Haven is how it came to be.
This little harbour town was actually founded by Norwegian arctic explorer Roald Amundsen in 1903. This is highly unusual, considering most Nunavut communities were created by an establishment of a Hudson’s Bay Trading Post, a whaling camp, or a church.
Originally Amundsen was in search of the Northwest Passage when he set sail for the Canadian Arctic with his crew, in a small ship known as the Gjoa. Up until this point, no one had ever successfully navigated the Northwest Passage.
It was not until Amundsen travelled down the Peel Inlet that he discovered Gjoa Haven, which at this time was a little uninhabited bay that laid on the east side of King William Island. Attracted by its quaint charm, Amundsen decided this would be the perfect place to set anchor. He then stayed for two years, conducting scientific research on the magnetic North Pole, which was located not far from where he had settled. Noticing Amundsen’s arrival, the Inuit people from surrounding camps came to the harbour to trade metal products and other goods with him. The harbour then became known as the haven for the Gjoa, or the “Gjoa Haven.”
Once Amundsen left, the Inuit people remained at Gjoa Haven, and thus a community was born. A Hudson’s Bay Trading Post was later established in the 1920s, which aided the growth of the community. And as for Amundsen, he later became the first person to navigate the Northwest Passage and five years later was the first person to reach the South Pole—an enormous accomplishment.
Today Gjoa Haven is best known for its annual Spring Games. Hamlet Day, which is usually around May 1, marks the beginning of the games and the summer solstice. This means that Gjoa Haven will receive 24 hours of sunshine a day and this grand event celebrates just that. The games include everything from ice chiseling to dogsledding races to Igloo building contests and attract a large number of the community each year. It’s clear from this celebration that Gjoa Haven is not only an arctic discovery, but also a growing, unified community.
Known as “the finest little harbour in the world,” Gjoa Haven is located 250 km above the Arctic Circle in the central part of the Nunavut Territory. Though it is small with just over 1,000 people, it is an ever-growing town that shares the typical lifestyle of any other Nunavut community.