The name of the next stop on Ponant’s itinerary
around the Baffin Sea, Skraeling Island (also known as Pim Island), may reveal something about its historical significance. If that doesn’t look like an English or Inuit name, it’s not. It comes from the Norse word skræling, or “cloth-skin,” which is how Vikings referred to the Inuit people, perhaps a reference to the animal hides they wore.
The entire island is an archaeological site, with artifacts from as early as 4500 B.C.E. having been found here, from the Dorset and Thule cultures. Of special interest to historians focused on the European presence in the New World are pieces of chainmail, chain links, and rivets, as well as a driftwood carving with European features. Most of these date from around the 13th century. While there is no indication that there was ever a Norse settlement on the island, they provide evidence that the Inuits and Norse engaged in trade and also that Inuit communities perhaps traded Norse items among each other.
The island was also a temporary base for one of the more important American expeditions to the Arctic, the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, led by Adolphus Greely. They found refuge here and set up a makeshift camp near Cape Sabine in the winter of 1883 to 1884.
You’ll continue to sail north along Ellesmere Island. At 75,767 square miles, Ellesmere is the world’s tenth largest island and yet fewer than 200 people live here, though there is actually a long history of human inhabitants here, dating back to 2000 B.C.E. when bands of hunters arrived in pursuit of musk oxen and caribou. Viking hunters and traders would also visit the island and trade with the Inuit communities.
The Johan Peninsula, on the east coast of Ellesmere Island, is surrounded by more than ten glaciers. At Alexander Bay, you can spot a Royal Canadian Mountain Police that was in active use from 1953 to 1963—it was then the world’s northernmost police station. Today the building is still occasionally used by research scientists.