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Canadian Arctic Archipelago Facts

6 min read

The Arctic Archipelago of Canada’s northern islands forms a natural barrier between Hudson Bay and the Arctic Circle.

Many polar travelers visit these majestic islands every year in order to witness the Aurora Borealis as the Arctic Archipelago is one of the remote, northerly destinations on the planet where the beautiful greens, reds, yellows, and purples light up the sky in an encapsulating picture that is impossible to forget.

The further north you travel on a polar voyage, the greater your chances of seeing the magical Northern Lights.
The fact of the matter is that your chances of witnessing the stunning Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) are infinitely  greater when you're on an Arctic voyage. Photo: Acacia Johnson

The Aurora Borealis is one of many interesting highlights of the Arctic Archipelago that makes the destination such an appealing voyage for travelers from all over the world.

From the photogenic scenery, sea ice, and major islands of the northern landscapes to the majestic polar bears that call northern Canada home, adventurers will undertake experiences that they’ll never forget in this breathtaking Canadian archipelago destination.

Canadian Arctic Archipelago Facts

  • The Canadian Arctic Archipelago consists of 94 islands that encompass the Canadian territories of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories including Banks Island, Prince Leopold Island, Melville Island, Somerset Island, Bathurst Island, Victoria Island and Cornwallis Island.
  • The largest island is Baffin Island, located on the northern edge of Hudson’s Bay off the coasts of both Nunavut and the province of Quebec.
  • Baffin Island is one of the largest islands in the world, larger than the United Kingdom. It’s also one of the most impressive stops on many polar voyages, including the Arctic Express Canada: The Heart of the Northwest Passage expedition.
  • Book any of the expeditions to the Canadian High Arctic and visit some of Baffin Island’s most impressive nature highlights, including Pond Inlet, the Eclipse Sound natural waterway, and even an incredible bird sanctuary on the nearby Bylot Island.

Experience the Rich Inuit First Nations culture

The Arctic Archipelago has been inhabited by Inuit First Nations for thousands of years. Historic encampments and landmarks dot the northern landscape, marking trails that show how ancient Inuit tribes migrated across this region when they first cultivated the land. In 1999, the Canadian government officially recognized the territory of Nunavut as the proud home of Inuit First Nations.

The people who call this land home are very welcoming to wide-eyed travelers eager to learn more about the unknown mysteries of the Arctic Archipelago.

Inuit culture is one of the highlights of a Nunavut cruise .
The Indigenous people of the Arctic are eager to share their rich culture and heritage with visitors. Quark Expeditions maintains the strictest measures of respect and safety when visiting local Arctic communities. Photo: Hugo Perrin

Archeological evidence cited in the Canadian Encyclopedia suggests that contact was maintained between the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic and the people of Greenland to the east.

Additionally, Vikings are believed to have explored the Canadian Arctic prior to the Middle Ages. Among the first European voyagers in the High Arctic lands were famed English colonists William Baffin and Robert Bylot. The two explorers also identified Jones Sound and Lancaster Sound, two waterways that surround the Arctic tundra of Devon Island. It goes without saying, most of these remote Arctic lands were known to and inhabited by Indigenous people who settled and explored here long before European explorers from overseas.

When you explore Northern Canada and the Canadian Arctic, you'll have the chance to walk in the footsteps of real life Arctic explorers.

Arctic plants and flora

Given the islands are in Arctic climates, there is very little vegetation that grows in the Arctic Archipelago.

Trees are practically non-existent, while dwarf shrubs, grasses, mosses, and lichens make up the tundra vegetation that thrive during the Arctic summer months.

Approximately 270 vascular plant species (which have true stems, leaves, and roots, such as ferns) and over 300 mosses can be found across the northern islands in what are locally dubbed mummified forests.

The Bearberry adds a splash of red-wine color to the Arctic tundra.
Bearberry is one of the Arctic flora found in Spitsbergen and East Greenland, among other Arctic destinations. Photo: Quark Expeditions

Voyagers are endlessly fascinated by the Arctic Archipelago and its incredible natural wonders. Among the most amazing sights to see are the fjords of Ellesmere Island, the northernmost island in Canada and home to Alexandra Fjord, one of the most incredible natural wonders in the Arctic.

Explorers book passage through the High Arctic often for the specific purpose of visiting fjords like Alexandra Fjord to appreciate the mesmerizing beauty of the landscape. The fjords and the mummified forests are among the possible wonders often experienced by guests who book Canada’s Remote Arctic: Northwest Passage to Ellesmere and Axel Heiberg Islands island-hopping adventure.

The Canadian Arctic Archipelago and the Northwest Passage

The Northwest Passage is the sea route across the Arctic Ocean, connecting both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via northern Canada.

Its counterpart is the Northeast Passage, which is also an Arctic sea route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. However, that sea route flows north of Russia rather than Canada.

By all accounts, the Northwest Passage was first sailed by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen from 1903 until his return home in 1906. Amundsen’s discovery of the fabled Northwest Passage sea route encouraged other explorers to brave the northern sea waters, and the Canadian government eventually took a vested interest in the future of the Arctic Archipelago upon recognizing the value of Amundsen’s discovery.

Amundsen later became the first explorer to reach the South Pole in Antarctica.

Stunning views of snow- and ice-covered landscapes are highlights of any cruise to Nunavut
The Northwest Passage is steeped in Arctic exploration history and incredible landscapes. Photo: Hugo Perrin

Archipelago adventures

By passing through the Northwest Passage, travelers can venture onward to the east or west coast of Canada or continue the journey north. A northern adventure will eventually lead you to the alluring Arctic Circle, which has long captured the hearts and minds of travelers dating back hundreds of years.

Quark Expeditions has, for many years, bee proud to take voyagers aboard the North Pole: The Ultimate Arctic Adventure expedition that ran from June through July each year, embarking from Murmansk, Russia. Explorers would venture outward onto otherworldly journeys at the very top of the world where the sheet ice is as much as 2 to 3 meters thick

There are other opportunities to explore the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. One of the most exciting journeys is the Best of the Western Arctic: Canada and Greenland voyage. On this adventure, you get to explore not only the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, but you also have the opportunity to visit the western coast of Greenland.

There, you’ll be able to appreciate how the rugged beauty of the fjords captures the hearts of polar travelers in both domains.

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