Eskimo from Thule Eskimo from Thule
Eskimos from Thule

The settlement at Dundas is far from being "young." Eskimos have lived here for the past nine-hundred years and actual proof of this may be found in the so-called "Comers Midden," just north of Mt. Dundas. "Comers Midden" was excavated in 1913-14, 1937 and aqain in 1946, as were another midden and twenty-two ruins. All in all more than 10,000 artifacts from these diggings were sent to the Danish National Museum. This great collection of specimens tells us about earlier times and the different cultures, starting with the Dorsetculture around the 10th century, followed by the Thule culture and later cultures. Even Norse relics were found, but whether the Norsemen ever reached the Thule district (which is not entirely out of the question) ar whether these Norse relics appeared here through the medium of barter with Eskimos living more to the south, is still a mystery.

The first European to arrive in the area was William Baffin in 1616, but he did not meet any people and his stories were so fantastic, nearly 200 years passed before anyone followed his route. Nevertheless, Baffin did leave his mark, because places like Wolstenholme Fjord, Saunders Island, Wolstenholme Island, Smith Sound, etc., are all places Baffin named.

In 1818 John Ross, following Baffin’s route crossed Melville Bay and met the Eskimos at Cape York. During the following century the area was visited, especially by whalers, but contact between Europeans and the Eskimos was scarce. The "white men" did not leave any good impressions. Among the Europeans spending the first winters in the area were the ship "North Star," in 1849-50 (in North Star Bay), Penny's expedition in 1850-51, Kane's expedition in 1853-55 and Hall‘s expedition in 1872-73.

It was not until Robert Peary started using the district as a base for his North Pole expeditions between 1892 and 1909, that closer contact was established due especially to Peary's great care not to violate the existing culture.

Knud Rasmussen, the late Danish explorer began his exploration in this area in 1903-04 (the so-called Danish Literary Expedition). Upon his return to Denmark he requested Danish colonization of the area because he felt that civilization now had obligations towards this little group of polar Eskimos. The result was negative but through church circles a sum of money was raised, so that in 1905 a ship could be sent north with the most important goods as a gift to the population.

From 1906-08 Knud Rasmussen returned to the district and in 1908 he again unsuccessfully asked for a Danish station to be established here. But dealings with the church circles were better. They asked for Rasmussen's help to build a mission station, They realized that they had to do a littletrading in connection with the mission.

On July 23, 1909, the ship "Godthaab" anchored in North Star Bay and after twelve days of hard work the first two buildings were put up - one for the missionaries, who were the Rev. Gustav Olsen and catechist Sechman Rosback with their families, and the other as a storehouse. From then, the Danish flag could be seen at "Thule."

Again Rasmussen requested Danish colonization when he returned to Denmark, because the mission station was unable to run a trading post as well. The answer was still no. The Danish State was understandably unsure of the international reaction if they proclaimed the area Danish, and other countries knew this: witness Peary's return in 1909 from the North Pole, passing Thule for the last time, and seeing the Danish flag at the mission station. He was so overwhelmed he forgot to navigate and ran the ship aground in a harbor he knew so very well. He understood the significance of the Danish flag.

In 1910 Rasmussen and his associate, Peter Freuchen, left for Thule to build a private trading post, the Cape York station. Rasmussen named the village which grew around their trading post, Thule. At that time the area north of Nt. Oundas was still inhabited and remained so. The settlement was called Umanaq.

The original idea for a trading station was Harald Noltke's, who had suggested Umanaq as the site. At First Knud Rasmussen wanted the station to be in Granville Bay, perhaps in opposition to Moltke. However, weather and ice conditions in J910 caused the ship "Motor" to anchor in North Star Bay at the mission station, so the trading station was built here. The Norwegian explorer Otto Sverdrup had been working on a plan similar to Rasmussen‘s. This last circumstance in particular, resulted in a few men of vision giving Rasmussen and Peter Freuchen their support, and although lacking the blessing of the government, Rasmussen and Freuchen got off to a good start in 1910.

Peter Freuchen
Peter Freuchen

Peter Freuchen became the first trading manager and held this post until 1920. The trading post had the following purposes:

(1) to save northern Greenland for Danish colonization,

(2) to equip and be the geographic and economic base for scientific expeditions exploring the Eskimo culture in and outside Greenland, and

(3) through the trading post to give the polar Eskimos access to the goods that had become »ecessary because of the contact with "white men," and to buy and sell Greenlandic products.

Knud Rasmussen
Knud Rasmussen

Knud Rasmussen stayed in Thule until 1914 and the first Thule expedition set out in 1912 to cross the ice cap to northeast Greenland and return. He spent the summer of 1913 in Denmark and bought the schooner "Kap York" for the station. After his return to Thule he started preparing the second Thule expedition.

During 1916-18 Rasmussen, again in Thule, for the second Thule expedition mapped the northernmost coast of Greenland, geographically, geologically, botanically and ethnologically.

The third Thule expedition was organized in 1919 with Capt. Godfred Hansen as its leader. This expedition‘s purpose was to support an expedition by Roald Amundsen. Simultaneously, Rasmussen was the leader of the fourth Thule expedition at Angmagssalik in eastern Greenland, at which tine the station also bought the schooner "Sgkongen."

In 1920 Rasmussen spent the summer in Thule to prepare the fifth expedition, and Hans Nielsen took over Peter Freuchen’s job as manager.

Then in 1921-24 the big fifth Thule expedition took place. Smaller groups with Freuchen, Therkel Mathiasen, Birket-Smith and many others explored northern Canada, while Rasmussen made his famous "great sled journey," travelling with dog sleds across Canada and Alaska to Siberia.

In the summers of 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1929 Rasmussen visited Thule. The station was now growing. A hospital was built in 1928-29. A prefabricated house, the so-called "Knud Rasmussen’s House," was built in 1929 and later used as the school. In 1929-30 a church was erected.

During his visit in 1928 Rasmussen called the hunters of the tribe together and said that, having listened to the wisdom of the old ones, he proposed to make some tribal laws. As a result the Thule Law was born. Everybody promised to uphold it and a council was formed to enforce it. The law was signed by Knud Rasmussen on June 7, 1929 and in 1931 it was ratified by the Danish government. The Thule Law remained in effect until 1950, when all Green-landic laws were rivised to suit modern times.

In 1931 the Danish government took over Thule district and Rasmussen was authorized to represent the Danish state. Denmark recognized northern Greenland more and more as Danish territory, especially after the sale of the Danish Virgin Islands to the United States of America in 1917. One clause in this trade agreement stressed United States’ recognition of Danish sovereignty over northern Greenland.

The sixth Thule expedition set out for northeast Greenland in 1932. In this year the first part of the seventh Thule expedition, took place, a meteorological expedition to Thule and a scientific expedition to southeast Greenland. The following year the second part of the seventh Thule expedition went to eastern Greenland (Angmagssalik and Scoresbysund).

Two settlements were founded in 1933 in the Thule district, Siorapaluk in the north and Sovigsivik in the south. These places each had a trading post so that people, unable to reach Thule owing to bad sea-ice conditions, could secure provisions.

When Knud Rasmussen died in 1933, the Danish Government took over the responsibilities of the trading posts and of the Eskimos.

In 1935 Thule celebrated the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the station and on that occasion a memorial stone, was unveiled, with the following inscription in Danish and Greenlandic:

UNTIL HIS DEATH 21.12.1933

In 1946, a combined Danish-American radio and weather station was set up, located in what is now the Royal Greenlandic Trade Department building at Pitugfik (now Thule Air Base, so actually the base ought to have been called Pitugfik Air Base, after the original site name!!!). The years 1948-50 witnessed plenty of activity in Dundas. A radio station, power plant and several houses were built.

When Thule Air Base was established in 1951-53, it was decided by the local council, acting partly on its own to move the Eskimo village of Thule, at that time numbering approximately 130 persons, and in the spring of 1954 the population moved north, by sleds, to Qaanaaq and other settlements, so that hunting and the like could continue without disturbances from the activities of the modern air base. On departing, the people demanded that the name Thule be taken with them in loyalty to Knud Rasmussen and because the name and the strength that is bound up in it, is needed where there is life.

The radio station remained and the place took the name Dundas after the mountain, but in Greenlandic the name is Umanaq. The radio station took over all remaining buildings and facilities, and increased the activities, (i.e. civil communications, air-to-ground services, weather observations, etc.).

The original settlement of turf houses was never used after 1953, and can be seen as ruins today.

Dundas radio continued its full services until 1974, when activities such as the air-to-ground service was eliminated due to a modern signal, called a single side band, installed in aircraft.

The station’s main purpose then served as a communications link between northern and southern Greenland, including civil communications to and from Thule Air Base.

New equipment, along with the polar orbiting satellites, provided many Greenlandic villages with a means of inter-village communications in early 1978. Dundas Village and Morsomt, a village located at the end of the Wolstenholme Fjord, received this communications service in 1983. They were the last villages to receive the equipment. The signals are transmitted through Qaanaaq to a relay at the ice cap and down to Godthaab. All villages are able to receive daily national and local news, as well as transmit information.

Eigil Jensen, station manager for Dundas Radio since 1973, returned to Denmark in 1983 upon the closing of Dundas Radio. He remarked, "I’m glad the new equipment was installed; all the villages can now communicate with each other."

Greenland communications have advanced greatly since 1943. Starting with 30 antennas and short wave equipment, they have grown into a modern, sophisticated operation, finally replacing human operators with fully automatic equipment using earth-orbiting satellites.