Herschel Island (Qikiqtaruk)

Qikiqtaruk is a remarkable place with a long and colourful history. For hundreds of years, it has sustained Inuvialuit living off the land and sea, and its shelter provided a base for the western Arctic whaling fleet in the 1890s. It was given its english name by John Franklin during a voyage to establish sovereignty over arctic North America, and was the location of the first police detachment in the Canadian Arctic. 

Herschel Island was also a logistical centre during the offshore oil boom of the 1970s and early 1980s, but is now designated as a territorial park, a reserve established as a result of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. It is our Council's responsibility to provide advice on management within the Park.

Want to learn more about the recent history of Qikiqtaruk? Check out the video below:


The Yukon's First Park

Herschel Island (Qikiqtaruk) Territorial Park was the first territorial park created by the Yukon Government, designated as a Natural Environment Park in 1987. This means its primary purpose is conserving wildlife and habitat and providing for traditional Inuvialuit use. The island is the largest on the Yukon North Slope (116 km2), and lies five kilometres offshore, almost directly opposite the Firth River.

The Magic of Qikiqtaruk

Northern peoples have been traveling and hunting in the Herschel Island area for thousands of years, and continue to do so. These days, Richard Gordon is the head park ranger for Herschel Island Territorial Park. Hear him talk about the magic of Herschel and play his song Kikkitaruq (Our Island).

A Special Place

For many years, Herschel Island was used by Inuvialuit as a base for hunting, sealing and whaling. Today, it is still visited by many throughout the year, representing an important piece of the Inuvialuit homeland. 

"I know Herschel Island is always a special place because I was born there in the Yukon. It’s always a special place. I like to go there....That’s where my heart is, there, and Axel River [Creek], where I was raised." 

-Participant, YNS Inuvialuit Traditional Use Study 

Diversity of Life

Many species of wildflowers can be found in sheltered areas and the warmer, well-drained valleys. Other habitats, like wetlands, alluvial fans, slumps, and beaches, all support a great diversity of plant life. 

Inuvialuit have their own way of describing and classifying these types of landcover. To learn more, read our recent study, Inuvialuit Traditional Knowledge of Wildlife Habitat.

Habitat Study

Herschel Island represents an important place for wildlife, too. For example, the wetlands near Pauline Cove are important nesting grounds for shorebirds and waterfowl and wildlife, like arctic fox, are common sights on the island. Of course, this land is also part of the Porcupine Caribou Herd range:

"What the caribou will do is they’ll go to the edge [of Hershel Island], right to the edge, right to the bottom [of the bluffs] where the water is, with a little wind, a cool area, away from vegetation where mosquitoes and bugs happen. They go right to the edge of the island....Caribou will start coming out on a warm day, hundreds and hundreds of caribou."

-Participant, YNS Inuvialuit Traditional Use Study 

Want to know more about the natural history of Herschel Island? Explore our Resource Library, which includes the Herschel Island Park Management Plan and a number of fact sheets on the the flora and fauna of this incredible place. 

Still not enough? Check out our book "Herschel Island (Qikiqtaryuk): A Natural History of Yukon's Arctic Island" from the University of Calgary Press.