May 2, 2008

Tasikimi: A park like no other

New protected area would feature unusual landforms, unique wildlife


The history of the Richmond Gulf area, which has been molded by the passage of Inuit, Cree and traders, lies at the heart and centre of what will be Nunavik's third provincial park.

A lonely and dilapidated trading post, built in the 18th century by the Hudson's Bay Co., stands as a reminder of the days when Inuit and Cree travelled by foot, dogsled and canoe to exchange furs for manufactured goods.

The name proposed for the new park, "Tasikimi," is a hybrid combining Inuttitut and Cree root. Until the name is officially approved, the park goes by its French name Parc national des Lacs-Guillaume-Delisle-et-à-L'Eau-Claire or the lengthy abbreviation, "LCG-LED."

The Hudson Bay shoreline of Tasikimi is marked by unusual formations called “cuestas.” Cuestas are tabletop hills with unequal slopes that plunge into the water.

At 15,000 square kilometers, Tasikimi will be the largest provincial park in Quebec.

Located between Umiujaq and the twin communities of Kuujuaraapik and Whapmagoostui, the park also features some of Quebec's most spectacular scenery around Richmond Gulf (Tasiujaq) and Clearwater Lake (Qasigialik.)

Tasikimi is also home to unique wildlife. A few hundred seals live 150 km inland at Lacs des Loups Marins or seal lakes region. They're believed to be the only harbour seals in the world that live year-round in freshwater.

Last year, the Committee of the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada upgraded the status of these seals to endangered, because there may only be as few as 100 left. The earliest historic record of the seals dates back to 1754.

A 1936 expedition to study the seals nearly ended in disaster for a team of American researchers, when, to survive, they had to resort to eating two seal specimens they had captured for study.

Many rivers, waterfalls and lakes are located within the borders of the proposed Tasikimi provincial park.

Scientists once wondered if these seals were a distinct population, speculating that the seals were somehow able to return to Hudson Bay, despite the rapids and waterfalls separating the chain of lakes from the bay.

But satellite collars finally showed that the seals stay inside the lake system. An examination of hair, blubber and blood also revealed the seals survive solely on a diet of freshwater fish, such as lake and brook trout.

Caribou, moose, black bear, wolverine, lynx and at least 51 bird species are also found within Tasikimi, along with reptiles and amphibians such as the American toad and the wood frog.

Given the richness of the park's animal life and unusual land formations, it's not surprising that the master plan managing it says that scientific research will play an important role.

On the park's western border lies Richmond Gulf, a huge salty body of water, outlined by unusual unsymmetrical hills called "cuestas" - the highest found in Quebec.

While travelling by helicopter, Willie Kumarluk (centre) of Umiujaq shares his knowledge of the history and natural environment of Nunavik’s future Tasikimi park with Peter Tookalook (left), the Umiujaq community liaison for the Kativik Regional Government Parks section, and Alec Sala (right), a KRG renewable resources officer.

Cuestas are tabletop hills with unequal slopes that plunge into the water on one side and drop off more gently on the other side. From the top of those cuestas, a 360-degree view takes in Hudson Bay, the Nastapoka Islands and the immense Richmond Gulf.

A narrow passage connects this gulf to the bay. About 10 km long, this passage, known as the "Goulet" in French, resembles a canyon surrounded by cliffs.

Due to the fast-running currents of water, the Goulet remains ice-free all winter, attracting beluga and seals. Meanwhile, fresh water from rivers brings brook trout, Arctic char and whitefish into the gulf.

To the east lies Clearwater Lake, made up of two circular basins, the result of a twin meteorite impact 287 million years ago. Rivers dotted by numerous falls crisscross the plateau that connects the lake to gulf.

To the south lies the Nastapoka River, which has a population of landlocked salmon, the only salmon to be found on eastern Hudson Bay.

Landscape near Crafton Bay in the south-western portion of Clearwater Lake shows where glaciers once passed over the land. This small, round lake is known as a kettle, a basin created by slow-melting ice.

Visitor and service centres are planned for Umiujaq and Kuujjuarapik-Whapmagoostui. The combination of summer sea kayaking and winter cross-country skiing is expected to draw visitors to the park year-round.

At next month's public hearings on the park, residents of Umiujaq and Kuujjuaraapik-Whapmagoostui will get a chance to say what they think about the new park and the master plan for managing its natural and cultural heritage.

Information on the hearings, which are scheduled for June 16 and 17 in Umiujaq and June 18 and 19 in Kuujjuaraapik-Whapmagoostui, can be found in English on the web site:

The size of the park, local employment, the future of mineral exploration around the park and the impact of planned hydroelectric developments on the Great Whale and Nastakopa rivers are all potential sources of controversy.

Once Quebec's environment department and the Kativik Environmental Quality Commission comment on information submitted at the hearings, the park project will go to Quebec's cabinet for final approval.

In August 2004, Quebec Premier Jean Charest committed $10 million to a five-year deal designed to create three provincial parks in Nunavik. Extra money for park infrastructure was earmarked in this year's provincial budget.

Last November, Charest officially opened the Pingualuit provincial park near Kangiqsujuaq. Quebec is expected to announce the creation of Kuururjuaq provincial park in the Torngat Mountains very shortly.

An administrative body within the KRG's renewable resources department, called the Nunavik parks section, looks after the provincial parks network planned for Nunavik, which will eventually employ 40 people throughout the region.

Odd land formations dot the landscape of Nunavik’s future park, Tasikimi.