Canada > Northwest Territories > Sachs Harbour

Sachs Harbour

Sachs Harbour is a hamlet located in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. Situated on the southwestern coast of Banks Island in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, the population according to the 2011 census count was 112 people. The two principal languages in the town are Inuvialuktun and English. The traditional name for the area is "Ikahuak", meaning "where you go across to". Bulk supplies of food and other items are brought by barge in the summer months and flights from Inuvik, some 325 mi to the southwest, operate all year, via the Sachs Harbour Airport. Sachs Harbour is the only permanent settlement on Banks Island.

The town was named after the ship Mary Sachs, which was part of the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913.

Community life

The community's economy is based largely on hunting and trapping, but tourism also plays a small role. Most of the town lies within 250 yd (230 m) of the shoreline. Residents also engage in ice fishing, harvesting fish from the Amundsen Gulf and the Beaufort Sea. There is a goose hunt every spring - Banks Island being the home to the largest goose colony in North America. The community is also home to the largest commercial muskox harvests in Canada. Three quarters of the world's population of muskoxen roam the island. Barren-ground caribou and polar bear are also seen on the island. On April 26, 2006, the world's first documented wild-born grizzly–polar bear hybrid was shot near the town.

Aulavik National Park

Sachs Harbour is the headquarters of Aulavik National Park. The Aulavik National Park Visitor Reception Centre is situated in Sachs Harbour. Aulavik National Park is located on the north end of Banks Island, and is co-operatively managed by Parks Canada with the residents of Sachs Harbour and the broader Inuvialuit community. The Visitor Reception Centre presents the park and Inuvialuit culture to visitors to Banks Island, as well as serves as a centre for community activities. On the north shore of Banks Island within Aulavik National Park is a narrow bay, Mercy Bay, penetrating some distance into the park. It is of historical significance for one of a number of ships sent out to the Arctic by the British Admiralty to find the lost expedition of James Franklin became trapped in the ice in the bay for some three years and had to be abandoned by its crew. That ship was the Investigator and its captain, Commander Robert McClure. The Investigator sailed from England all around North and South America so that it passed through the Bering Strait in an attempt to find the North West passage from the west while looking for the Franklin Expedition. There was a relatively high hill on Banks Island to the east of Mercy Bay with a clear and unobstructed view of the waters and lands to the east. McClure had been in the Arctic approaching from the east on an earlier voyage. From the top of the hill he was able to identify land features to the east and the water passage to these lands from Banks Island. He had found the fabled North West Passage - a waterway across the top of North America theoretically allowing ships from Europe to pass through and enter Asian waters in the west. This had been a goal for mariners since the overland route, the Silk Road from Asia to Europe, had been closed in 1453 when its western hub, Constantinople, now Istanbul, fell to the Ottoman Turks. Mariners learned fairly quickly thereafter that China could be reached by ship taking a long voyage around the south end of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope, or the south end of South America at Cape Horn. If only there was a North West Passage over the top of North America - a much shorter voyage to China. In the Investigator's log there is this brief entry: "October 31st, [sic 1850], the Captain returned at 8.30. A.M., and at 11.30. A.M., the remainder of the parting, having, upon the 26th instant, ascertained that the waters we are now in communicate with those of Barrow Strait, the north-eastern limit being in latitude 73°31′, N. longitude 114°39′, W. thus establishing the existence of a NORTH-WEST PASSAGE between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans." Aulavik National Park was where the momentous discovery of the North West Passage was made. Some fifty or so years later, vessels did sail through the North West Passage from east to west and west to east. In recent years, an oil tanker and several freighters with the help of icebreakers have made it through the passage. There may come a day when such passages are common. After abandoning the Investigator in the ice of Mercy Bay, the crew, pulling their four sledges loaded with supplies, left Banks Island and journeyed east over the ice to meet up with the ships that rescued them and took them back to England by way of the Atlantic Ocean.


Oil and gas exploration has provided jobs over the years for some Sachs Harbour residents—estimates of commercially recoverable oil in the Beaufort Sea range from 4 to 12 billion barrels (1.9×109 m3), and there is believed to be between 13 and 63 trillion cubic feet (1,800 km3) of natural gas.


Services include a two-member Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment and a health centre with one nurse. Phone services are provided by Northwestel with Internet access. The local hunters and trappers association provides outfitting for big-game hunts like musk-ox and polar bears.


Sources: NWT Bureau of Statistics


Sachs Harbour is in the Arctic tundra climatic zone, characterized by long, extremely cold winters. Since the activities of many residents of the community revolve around fishing, hunting, and travel, many residents have considerable knowledge of weather conditions, permafrost, and even erosion patterns. Because of climate changes in recent years, local residents fear their knowledge of weather patterns may not be of much use, as the weather has become harder to predict. Since the climate has been changing, sea ice has been breaking up earlier than normal, taking seals farther south in the summer. Seals are one of the main sources of food for the town. Salmon appeared for the first time in nearby waters between 1999 and 2001. New species of birds are migrating to the island, including robins and barn swallows, and more flies and mosquitos have been appearing.

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