Monday, September 25, 2017

Herschel Island: The abandoned island of the Arctic

In the north of Canada, 5 km (3 miles) away from the shore, there's an abandoned island with long history but no population. Herschel Island, known as Qikiqtaruk ("island") in the Inuvialuktun language, had been inhabited by Thule people for at least 1,000 years according to archaeological excavations. The first European who set foot on the island was Sir John Franklin on 15 July, 1826. At that time the island was a base for whaling, fishing and hunting and was inhabited by 200 to 2000 people.

In the late 19th century, Herschel Island became a whaling base after whalers discovered that the Beaufort Sea was one of the last refuges of the depleted bowhead whale. 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 largest Yukon community at that time. That was also when a number of buildings still standing today were built on the island. The most prominent of those was Community House built in 1893. It included a recreation room, an office for the manager and storekeeper, and storage facilities. Today it is well preserved and it's the island's visitor center. Another building, known as the Bonehouse which was built in the mid-1890s as a storehouse for baleen (whalebone) was were the first court case in the Arctic took place in 1924. 

Whaling subsided after the first decades of the 20th century but Herschel island saw some renewed activity in the 1970s when it became a temporary safe harbour for oil-drilling ships. The last family permanently living there left the island in 1987. From that year, Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park was established, encompassing the whole island. It is jointly managed by The Government of Yukon and the Inuvialuit. The park is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, protected as a cultural and also natural site.

SEE ALSO: More abandoned islands around the world // More abandoned places in Canada // LIST OF ALL DESERTED PLACES
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