Cape Dorset is where the remains of the Thule (Tuniit, Dorset Culture) were discovered, that lived between 1000 BC and 1100 AD. Cape Dorset was named by Captain Luke Fox after Edward Sackville, 4th Earl of Dorset, on September 24, 1631. The Inuit originally called the inlet Sikusiilaq before it was named Cape Dorset, after the area of sea ocean nearby that remains ice free all winter. Hudson's Bay Company started their trading post in 1913, where they traded furs and skins for supplies like tobacco, ammunition, flour, gas, tea and sugar. Since the 1950s, Cape Dorset, which calls itself the "Capital of Inuit Art" has been a centre for drawing, printmaking, and carving. Even today, printmaking and carving are the community's main economic activities. Each year, Kinngait Studios issues an annual print collection. Cape Dorset has been hailed as the most artistic community in Canada, with some 22% of the labour force employed in the arts.
In 1957, European-Canadian James Archibald Houston created a graphic arts workshop in Cape Dorset. Houston collected drawings from community artists and encouraged local Inuit stone carvers to apply their skills to stone-block printing. The print program was modeled after Japanese ukiyo-e workshops. Other cooperative print shops were also established in nearby communities, but the Cape Dorset workshop has remained the most successful. They have experimented with etching, engraving, lithography, and silkscreen, and produce annual catalogs advertising the limited edition prints.
Between the years of 1959 and 1974, Cape Dorset artists produced more than 48,000 prints. Well-known artists of Cape Dorset include Nuna Parr, Pudlo Pudlat, Angotigolu Teevee, Alashua Aningmiuq, and Kenojuak Ashevak. Parr's carvings are internationally recognized and his work is exhibited in the National Gallery of Canada. Ashevak's drawings of owls have appeared on Canadian stamps as well as a Canadian quarter. Inuit photographer and author Peter Pitseolak spent several years of his life living in Cape Dorset.
As of the 2016 census, the population was 1,411, an increase of 5.7% from the 2006 census.
There are a handful of unnamed dirt/gravel roads that do not connect beyond Cape Dorset. Cars and trucks are the main means of transportation and supplemented by snowmobiles and ATVs (all terrain vehicles) during the winter. Boats and ships provide seasonal travel to and from Cape Dorset when the Hudson Strait is ice free. There is a taxi company, Tuniit Taxis, which offer a range of vehicles.
The area is serviced by the Cape Dorset Airport with connections within Nunavut only. Travel outside of Nunavut can be made via connections through Iqaluit Airport.
The only secondary school in town, PETER Pitseolak School (PPS), was destroyed by fire by youths in September 2015.
Sam Pudlat School is the community's only elementary school with enrollment of 227 students. There have been 11 arson attempts including attempts by youths on the portables used at the elementary and high schools. Attendance is good at the elementary school but quite poor at the high school.
Post secondary education is available in a limited number of areas in Cape Dorset at the Community Learning Centre. Nunavut Arctic College based in Iqaluit periodically offers community-based programs in Cape Dorset at the Community Learning Centre.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police has a detachment staffed by 4 officers and sometimes number as many as 6 officers with one Corporal.
The Fire Department is staffed by 25 volunteers and a pumper at a single fire hall. There is a lack of fire hydrants in the town, so each run has to be filled up at the water station.
Medical facilities are crude and basic at the Community Health Centre with four beds. Advanced medical care requires an airlift to the Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit. There is no ambulance in the town. Qualified doctors visit only occasionally.There is a taxi service but it's not very reliable or dependable.
The community has been served by the Qiniq network since 2005. Qiniq is a fixed wireless service to homes and businesses, connecting to the outside world via a satellite backbone. The Qiniq network is designed and operated by SSI Micro. In 2017, the network was upgraded to 4G LTE technology, and 2G-GSM for mobile voice.
No new family dwellings have been built in more than 10 years, so houses are overcrowded with as many as 17 people living in small quarters. TB or tuberculosis is active in the town. This is made more acutely dangerous as the overcrowding continues.
The cost of basic food staples like milk, cheese, flour, butter is 65-75% higher than in Ottawa or Montreal.
Spanning both Dorset Island and Mallik Island, Mallikjuaq Territorial Park is notable for its Thule culture, Dorset culture, and Inuit archaeological sites. The park is reachable by foot from Cape Dorset at low tide, or by boat. There is a cairn in memory of the ship, RMS Nascopie, that hit rock and sank in 1947. It was a supply ship to the arctic. Although the cargo was lost, the passengers and crew were saved. There are also outfitters that offer tours like dogsledding, camping and hiking to parks.