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Port Refuge National Historic Site of Canada

Port Refuge, Devon Island, Nunavut, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1978/06/19

Map of Port Refuge.; Parks Canada
Map of Port Refuge.
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Other Name(s)

Port Refuge National Historic Site of Canada
Port Refuge
Port Refuge
Port Refuge

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2010/03/08

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Port Refuge National Historic Site of Canada is located in a small bay off the south coast of Grinnell Peninsula, on Devon Island, Nunavut. The site is comprised of two parcels of land: one is located on raised terraces on the western and northern shores of the port, and the other is located at Cape Hornby on the eastern shore of the harbour. Contained within these parcels are a series of archaeological sites dating to prehistoric occupation, including a Thule winter village near the entrance of the bay, and remains of Pre-Dorset dwellings. More recent cairns and markers dot the landscape around the gravel beaches. Official recognition refers to the two polygons that encompass the site.

Heritage Value

Port Refuge was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1978 because:
- the area contains a very rich series of pre-contact occupations, beginning with the Paleo-Eskimo Independence I culture about 4000 years ago and ending with the Thule Inuit between AD 1200 and 1500;
- it contains evidence of Thule contact with the medieval Norse colonies of Greenland;
- it was visited by Sir Edward Belcher in 1853 while he was searching for the missing Franklin Expedition.

Port Refuge contains well-preserved archaeological evidence of early human occupation of the High Arctic on raised beaches, which range in elevation from 15 to 25 metres above sea level. Archaeological remains are visible on the surface around the bay, and are irregularly distributed over an area approximately 900 hectares in size. The area contains a very rich series of pre-contact occupations beginning with the Independence I occupation (2000 B.C.E.), and continuing to the Thule Inuit occupation (1200 to 1500 C.E).

Structures that were excavated provide valuable information concerning spatial and elevational groupings. In addition, the variety of features including objects of Norse and Asiatic origins found at the Thule winter village near the entrance of the bay show evidence of trade with medieval Norse colonies of Greenland.

The most recent remains of occupation at the site exist from Sir Edward Belcher’s 1852-1853 voyage in search of the missing Franklin Expedition. Forced by ice to remain in the bay for several days, he erected survey and marker cairns which now remain as several small hills.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, 1978, 2009.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its location on the Grinnell Peninsula on Devon Island, in Nunavut;
- its setting on terraced beaches between 15 and 25 metres above sea level;
- viewscapes from the site across the Pioneer Channel at the mouth of Port Refuge.

The integrity of any surviving or as yet unidentified archaeological remains that may be found within the site in their original placement and extent, including:
- any remains from the Independence I and II occupations, such as mid-passage features, a cache, dwelling structures, isolated hearths and outdoor activity areas;
- any remains from pre-Dorset, Dorset and Thule occupations, such as the five Thule winter houses, the Dorset camp, structural features and varying cultural remains.




Recognition Authority

Government of Canada

Recognition Statute

Historic Sites and Monuments Act

Recognition Type

National Historic Site of Canada

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1852/01/01 to 1852/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Function - Category and Type


Historic or Interpretive Site



Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

National Historic Sites Directorate, Documentation Centre, 5th Floor, Room 89, 25 Eddy Street, Gatineau, Quebec

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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