SCANDINAVIAN GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES IN ARCTIC CANADA (NUNAVUT)

The purpose of the project has been to make a toponymic-historic inventory of the Scandinavian geographical names in Nunavut. The result of the study is an article manuscript of around 30 pages (A4, double space). Depending on the reception it might be possible to continue research and deepen it, as there are of course many other Scandinavian geographical names in Arctic Canada besides the ones presented in the article manuscript.

The article has the same title as this memo with the following contents:

1. Arctic Canada – Historical Background
2. From the Vikings to Otto Sverdrup, Roald Amundsen and Knud Rasmussen
3. The Future – Nunavut and the Name Changing Process
4. The Names in Alphabetical Order
5. Selected Bibliography

Research

With the aid of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center, Yellowknife, it has been been possible to identify a number of Scandinavian geographical names in Nunavut. There are Scandinavian place names on Baffin Island, the Boothia Peninsula, King William Island, Devon Island, Ellesmere Island, Axel Heiberg Island, Amund Ringnes Island, Ellef Ringnes Island, Banks Island and Victoria Island. These names relate to islands, lakes, capes, villages, inlets, peninsulas, ice caps, fiords, bays, sounds, channels, points, straits, seas and gulfs.

Three Main Sources

The Scandinavian geographical names originate from three main sources: two Norwegian and one Danish.

The first source is of course Roald Amundsen. During his wintering over while as the first sailing through the Northwest Passage 1903 – 1906 members of the crew of GJOA by dog sled in areas surrounding Gjoa Haven especially along the the coast of Victoria Island.

A Norwegian source is the work of Otto Sverdrup (1854 – 1930). Using the schooner FRAM of future Antarctic fame between 1898 and 1902 to explore southern and western Ellesmere Island and discovered and named Axel Heiberg Island, Amund Ringnes Island and Ellef Ringnes Island to the west.

An interesting matter of sources is that Canada in 1930 bought Sverdrup´s journals and original maps. Of interest to this project would be to find this material in Canadian archives and use it for identification of names and their history.

In 1923 – 24 Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen, with two Inuit companions, followed the Northwest Passage by land on a scientific expedition from Hudson Bay to the Bering Strait.

Rasmussen, Knud, “The Fifth Thule Expedition, Geographical Journal 67 (1926), pp. 123 – 138.

Rasmussen, Knud, The Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimo. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition. Vol. VII. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 1929.

Helen Kerfoot, Secretariat, Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names, has touched upon the Scandinavian contributions in her article “Naming the islands of Canada´s Arctic” (Canoma, Vol.6 (2), pp. 35 – 36.

“The Americans were not alone in their ventures into Canadian territory; the journey of Roald Amundsen in the GJOA (1903-06) marked the first complete navigation of the Northwest Passage. Most notable, however, among the Scandinavians who left their mark on toponyms of Arctic Canada is Otto Sverdrup. After being master on Nansen´s ship FRAM in 1896, he was given command of the vessel in 1898 and sailed north to the east coast of Ellesmere Island. Fully 18 years after Canada had been granted this land, and even following its inclusion in legislation in 1895, Sverdrup spent four years exploring by sledge, on behalf of Norway. The main Sverdrup Islands were named at this time after patrons of the expedition: Axel Heiberg Island for Consul Axel Heiberg, Ellef Ringnes Island and Amund Ringnes Island for two Ringnes brothers. In the 1870s these three men had formed a private company to start a brewing business, which still exists in Oslo today. The more southerly King Christian Island derives its name from the honour bestowed by Sverdrup on Christian IX, King of Denmark.

At the turn of the century Canada had not established a permanent presence in the Arctic and her sovereignty was threatened not only by Scottish and American whalers frequenting the islands, but more particularly by these scientific expeditions, which often overwintered. Sverdrup´s crew had named numerous coastal features and claimed 100 000 square miles
(259 000 square kilometres) in the name of the King of Norway. This claim was not withdrawn until 1930, when Canada agreed to pay the costs of the expedition.”

It is noted here that from 1814 – 1905 a union existed between Sweden and Norway. Swedish names therefore occur frequently alongside Norwegian.

Literature

Amundsen, Roald, The Northwest Passage. 2 vol., London: Archibald Constable and Co., 1908.

Sverdrup, Otto, Nyt land (in Norwegian). 2 vol. Oslo, 1903.

Rasmussen, Knud, “The Fifth Thule Expedition, Geographical Journal 67 (1926), pp. 123 – 138.

Rasmussen, Knud, The Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimo. Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition. Vol. VII. Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 1929.

Helen Kerfoot, Secretariat, Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names, has touched upon the Scandinavian contributions in her article “Naming the islands of Canada´s Arctic” (Canoma, Vol.6 (2), pp. 35 – 36.

For further information contact varldsinbordeskriget.wordpress.com.

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