We have left the Bay of Qaanaaq and are sailing to Thule the town named after the Thule Culture, which gave the region its name. The Thule Culture descends from the last big wave of immigration about 1000 B.C., in a long history of Arctic migration flows over the frozen Smith Sound from the Canadian Arctic. The descendants of the Thule still live in the region today – researchers assume that the Thule mingled with the Dorset Culture at the time.
Not far from the old settlement Uummannaq, Knud Rassmussen and Peter Freudchen founded the Thule trading post in 1910 at the foot of Dundas Mountain. This “Summit of Souls” is on a peninsula and looks like a miniature version of the Table Mountain. In older times it was the place where the dead were buried. The old part of Thule has grown around this trading post. We can well understand why different cultures settled here. It is protected by the mountains and enclosed by three bays which offer excellent spots to anchor. It is at the entrance to the Wolstenholm Fiord (Uummannaq Kangerlua), which is blocked off to us. This historical site has something quite meaningful.
It must have been a disaster for the inhabitants to be forced out of their houses at the time. In 1943 a meteorological station was erected here which enabled better weather forecasts for Europe during the war. Because of its strategic position, it quickly developed into a military air base. In 1951 a bilateral defense agreement was met between Denmark and the United States. In 1953 the inhabitants had to leave their houses and were forcibly resettled to Qaanaaq without any indemnity. To this day, the USA has not paid an indemnity. It was only the European Court of Human Rights which, in 2004, awarded the Inuit still living here an indemnity. Many of those people who were directly affected at the time did not live to see this day.
During the 50th “Jubilee” in 2001 , a dog sled tour was organized from Qaanaaq to Pituffik – the Greenlandic name for the Thule Settlement. In 2003, the decision was made to return the whole Dundas Peninsula back to the Greenlandic State. For many of the displaced persons, this came too late as well.
We walk through the settlement and find that many of the houses have been renovated. In 1986 the Americans employed Danish and Greenlandic workers at the base for the first time. We meet one of the Danish employees and he tells us that many of the employees use these deserted houses as weekend houses. And so we walk through this spot and see deserted houses, rusted playgrounds and find long forgotten graves in the graveyard. Rassmussen’s old trading post shines with a new brilliance but stands empty.
On the horizon we see a group of musk ox. We decide to get a little closer and get a better look. After two kilometers, however, we come up to a safety notice from the military base. Passage prohibited. We are puzzled to find the first prohibition sign we have seen in a long time here is such a deserted area. But we figure that it is not a good idea to walk around an American base shouldering a rifle, even it is only used when we are on land to either protect us from polar bears or frighten them away.
We continue on our journey south and make a short stop at a nearby hunting settlement, which obviously has not been in use since 2008. We land to get water. We always use the chance to get fresh water at clean streams we see through the binoculars. This way we save energy on the water-maker we have on board and often discover many new things. Mostly mosquitos but this time we find many old remainders – stoves, oil lamps, bones, dog sleds and ice skates. And unfortunately always a lot of plastic waste.