Somerset Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut. The island, located in the Queen Elizabeth II Icefield and located just northwest of Somerset Island, is a designated wilderness area and an important breeding habitat for endangered species. The island is also an important Norse archaeological site. With ice-free water for a greater part of the year, this is a perfect place to have your next outdoor adventure and give your heart some much-needed exercise.
The island was first named “King George Island” in 1825 by HMS Erebus and Terror after King George IV of the United Kingdom. It was renamed Somerset Island in 1916 by Arthur Findlay Johnston, 1st Viscount Milner, a British colonial official who played an instrumental role in the formation of Canada.
Somerset is about long and wide with an area of. The highest point on the island is Mount Hackett. The island is mound-shaped and indented by many fjords, bays, streams, and islands lying almost at the northern end of Queen Maud Land (69° 11’N to 69° 26’W) in Antarctica. At least 148 earthquake swarms have been recorded on Somerset Island alone; a few underline that it may be one of the most seismically active places on earth.
The geomorphology of the island includes steep slopes, boulder beds, and landslides.
The island moss peatland is considered one of the richest biological sites in Canada due to its worldwide significance as a breeding area for many species. There are at least 34 rare plants on Somerset which do not occur anywhere else in Nunavut: these include seven carnivorous Arctic sundews (Drosera sp.) and an extremely tiny dwarf-hawthorn – just a few inches high – that blooms once per century.
Other unusual plants on the island include wa tleys (Arctomecon humilis), a grape-like plant that only grows here, Rynn’s sundew (Drosera rinieri,) and southern iceworts (“Helianthemum antarcticense”). Somerset is also notable for its long ice free season: up to 40 months in winter followed by 6 months of continuous daylight from late March or early April when the sun never sets.
The rare Arctic hare harvestmen (Hareolurioides) are found here, a true species restricted to Somerset Island only and it has not been seen anywhere else since 1981.
The climate of Somerset Island is classified as a polar tundra environment. Annual average temperatures range from to, with an average temperature of in January and February, 28 °C in July and August, −33 °C in December, and 23 degrees C on the coldest day of the year. The warmest month is July with an average temperature of while the coolest month is January with an average temperature of.
Average annual precipitation is as low a, while average annual snowfall ranges from depending on the time of year. Somerset makes a great home to many wildlife animals, especially birds and bears.
The culture of Somerset is similar to that of the Inuvialuit people, with a subsistence way of life oriented towards gathering food and hunting for animal prey. The main sources of income are from tourism (mainly kayaking and skiing) and small-scale oil extraction. Sport, recreation, and tourism have brought a diverse range of fun activities to Somerset in recent years.
Some concerns have been addressed, however; the Canadian Coast Guard has instigated development efforts to stabilize natural beach erosion on the south west side of the island (2008), while fish farming was a big issue leading up to election day 2008 (see Noam Chomsky at The Globe And Mail) but is now being controlled. Friendly local folks like Winona Camp and Tommy Baikie are perhaps the most recognizable faces on Somerset Island.
The politics of Somerset Island are largely influenced by Nunavut. The island is a part of the Qikiqtaaluk Region, which forms part of the territory represented in the Canadian Parliament by Conservative MP Ivalu Ilirmkuu. In Nunavut elections, the MLA for Ukkusiksalik is traditionally a Standing Committee Member of Executive Council (ExCo).
Somerset Island’s Ex-Officio member on Anmart is also an ExCo Member. The last three sitting members listed represent areas as outlined in section 4(d) – and are therefore MPsPICs = Members of Parliament. Elected officials include:
Marjory Sandy Lake, who was elected Prince William Sound leader in traditional “Qallunaat” fashion. She is a descendant of former Inuvialuit head chief Aangakok, and has served as wife to Alyeska director Tommy Baikie (until his death).
Ms Sandy Lake came back from Canada’s National Theatre School intent on learning all she could about the “Original People”, whom her people had forgotten. Her success at teaching was rewarded by an Indigenous Governance Fellowship at the Trilateral Commission. Through her efforts, she is now a member of that group’s governance committee as well attend their annual conferences in Geneva, Switzerland.
Mairjory Sandy Lake and Nathaniel Inter-Island ferried passengers between Thorne Bay Inlet and Stanley Sound on MATS (missionary boat).
The government services of Somerset Island are provided by the Department of Community, Culture and Sport.
The RCMP provides policing on the island. There is also a volunteer fire department that provides emergency support, training and development.
The local justice services are run by the Nunavut Court system. The RCMP maintain a detachment on Somerset Island in Ekalluktuq village located near Denny Bay settlement. There was an older detachment in Meadowbank opposite Holman’s Point, but this one was closed at least ten years ago when it lost its air transportation contract with Iceberg Air to provide helicopter transportation for Nunavut RCMP.
This detachment does not provide road or dispatch service to any community – it only provides emergency flight support and is located in case of an evacuation from Somerset Island due to a fire, etc.
Tourism is an important industry on Somerset Island with visitors coming to enjoy the natural beauty of the island and its many attractions. The Department of Community, Culture and Sport has developed a tourism strategy that aims to create sustainable economic growth through attracting tourists who will spend money in local businesses.
Tourism on Somerset Island is supported by a number of initiatives designed to make it easy for visitors to get around the island and find what they are looking for. There is a general store, which is open seasonally. The store sells access to many supplies, such as food and fuel (gasoline). It also provides a guide service for visiting boats that provide sightseeing or fishing excursions on the Strait of Belle Isle.
There are several homestays located in various places throughout the island available through an online booking system managed by accredited tour operators with appropriate licenses/permits.
Iceberg Air is the only company that provides air transportation to Somerset Island. The company has a contract with Nunavut RCMP to provide helicopter transportation for emergency evacuations.
There is no regular ferry service on or off of Somerset Island.
Somerset Island is home to a number of restaurants that serve traditional island cuisine. Some of the more popular establishments include The Big Cheese and Deer Lake Lodge.
Somerset Island is home to a number of wildlife species, including caribou, polar bears, and arctic char. The island is also home to a variety of bird species, including ptarmigans and grouse.
First island to bear fruit from the English settlement in Canada, it is also among the earliest sites of human habitation in Canada. More than a mere colony, it was one of the vital ports on the Great Lakes. In connection with its provincehood, it has also been known as St. Regis. Like other locations in its province, it is one of those that is rich in historic and cultural richness. Though the island is only few kilometres from the mainland of mainland Canada, its distinctive features have led to it becoming one of its premier tourist destinations.
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