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Historical photograph of an Inuit family in front of a summer camp tent.

The People

Inuit group, Fort Chimo, 1896. Photographer: A.P. Low, Library and Archives Canada C-005591

Inuit in the Historic Period

Contemporary Inuit are the direct descendants of the Thule and, despite occasional contacts with Norse explorers and fishermen in the second half of the 16th century, their way of life differed little from that of their Thule ancestors. The first fairly regular contacts between the Inuit of Nunavik and Europeans dates to the first half of the 19th century, after a Moravian mission was established in 1811 at the mouth of the Koksoak River, where the village of Kuujjuaq stands today.

Metal half-moon shaped knife with a wooden handle.

Ulu knife, 1900-1909
McCord Museum Collection, ME930.39.15

Although there is evidence of a sporadic European presence in Hudson Strait and Hudson Bay during the 16th and 17th centuries, it was not until the 19th and early 20th centuries that permanent posts were established. The Ungava Bay region was first visited by Europeans only in the early 19th century and more permanent posts did not open until the beginning of the 20th century.

A period of more sustained contact and exchange with the Inuit of Nunavik began when the Hudson’s Bay Company and Revillon Frères opened their first trading posts. Nunavik’s first Hudson’s Bay post, established in the Guillaume-Delisle Lake region in 1750, was transferred to Kuujjuarapik in 1759. Another trading post was set up at Kuujjuaq (formerly known as Fort Chimo) in 1830, followed by seasonal posts at Tasiujaq in 1833 and at Kangiqsualujjuaq (formerly George River) in 1838. All these posts closed around 1842 for lack of a regular clientele. It was not until 1866 that activities started again at the Fort Chimo post, which remained the sole permanent trading post in the Ungava Bay region until the early 20th century. At that point, trading posts began to proliferate in Nunavik with the arrival of new companies, including Revillon Frères, which was eventually acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1937. The establishment of these posts meant that the Inuit became increasingly sedentary, since they now had direct access to consumer goods that could be obtained in exchange for furs.

While there are few known Inuit archaeological sites dating from the historic period, the remains found on them correspond to those from the Thule period. Tools made of bone, antler and stone continued to be used, but iron gradually began to replace certain materials traditionally associated with the making of everyday implements, such as spearheads and semi-circular knives. Firearms eventually took the place of traditional hunting weapons. Dwellings (tents, igloos and semi-subterranean houses) remained very little changed until tents began to be made out of canvas instead of skins. The last semi-subterranean houses are thought to have been built towards the end of the 19th century.

← Previous period: The Thule • 750 BP to contact with Europeans
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