THE CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION, INUVIK
The Church of the Ascension, like the town of Inuvik, is multilingual and multicultural. About two-thirds of the members are of aboriginal descent: Gwich'in and Inuvialuit. The other third consists of people from all over Canada and other parts of the world (including Barbados, Congo, Zimbabwe and South Africa) and from many Christian denominations.
When the town was built, many of Aklavik’s devoted Anglican congregation moved to Inuvik and began worshipping out of a “five twelve” (wood framed building measuring 512 square feet). The 512 temporarily doubled as living quarters for the first priest, Church Army Captain Ken Snider. The Rev. Ken Snider returned for a second term in the 1980s before becoming Archdeacon of the Yukon. Other priests that have served the Inuvik congregation are Bishop Terry Buckle, Rev. Geoff Dixon and Rev. Andy York
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Inuvik is situated on the East Channel of the Mackenzie Delta. At 133•43’ west longitude, it is 10 degrees farther west than Victoria, British Columbia. The community is within the taiga forest, just south of the tree line and west of the open tundra. The Arctic Ocean is only 97 kilometres north and the Arctic Circle is 200 kilometres to the south. Inuvik is 1086 air km NW of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. Edmonton is 1931 air km south of Inuvik. There are daily flights to and from Edmonton.
Some residents earn their living hunting, trapping and fishing, but most are employed in government and aboriginal offices or in transportation, construction, petroleum exploration and tourism companies.
Inuvik was conceived by the Canadian government in 1953. It was intended to replace the hamlet of Aklavik in the Mackenzie Delta, which was subject to flooding and offered limited space for expansion. The name ”Inuvik” was selected in 1958. In Inuvialuktun it means “place of people.” In April 1967, Inuvik achieved village status, and in January 1970 it became a town with an elected mayor and council. With completion of the Dempster Highway in 1979, Inuvik became part of the Canadian highway system.
Petroleum exploration in the Mackenzie Valley and Beaufort Sea provided tremendous employment and business opportunities in the region beginning in 1971. These activities continued until 1990 when petroleum companies decided to pull out because of disappearing government subsidies, low gas and oil prices, and local resistance to resource development. Since 1999, oil and gas companies have once again begun to explore for natural gas.
During the time that multi-national corporations were busy tapping petroleum resources in the Mackenzie Delta, aboriginal organizations were gaining the leverage they needed to settle their land claims with the Canadian government. The Inuvialuit claim was settled in 1984 and the Gwich’in claim in 1992. Inuvik is home to members and organizations of both groups.
Today, Inuvik is the administrative and commercial centre for Western Arctic and is Canada’s largest community north of the Arctic Circle. The town’s population peaked at 4,200 in 1990 at the end of the exploration boom, and now is at about 3,450.