WE LOVE HISTORY
Once upon a time in Greenland
The Saqqaq Culture
Sisimiut has been inhabited for around 4,500 years by people from the Saqqaq culture, who arrived from the Arctic regions of Canada. During the first period, they settled in numerous places along the western coast of Greenland. At this point, the water level was higher than the current one, but it has gradually declined after many years of land rising. The Saqqaq culture remained in Western Greenland for almost two thousand years. Unlike subsequent immigration, the Saqqaq culture left a number of graves and other archaeological treasures along the Davis Strait from Disko Bay to the Labrador Sea south of Nuuk.
Investigations near the airport have revealed the changing kinds of residences of the Saqqaq culture. Studies have shown that the housing of the culture varied from tents made of animal skins to fireplaces made of stones. The studies have also shown the transition from single-family settlements to small villages with several families. However, there is no indication that the culture had been structured on a larger scale. In spite of this, there is evidence that shows that a coordinated reindeer hunt had been organized, either in the village or by individuals who were losely connected. Although today’s technology in DNA research allows researchers to explore the cultures, it has not yet been possible to find the explanation for the disappearance of the culture.
The Dorset culture
After centuries without any permanent population, the second wave of immigrants from Canada arrived. This wave brought the Dorset culture to Western Greenland and is known as “Dorset I”, which arrived around 500 A.D. and settled the region for about 700 years. The early Dorset culture was followed by “Dorset II” which didn’t leave many archeological artifacts near Sisimiut. Most of the artifacts from the Dorset culture have been found further north, especially in the area near the Disko Bay, while no significant amounts of artifacts have been found further south. Around Sisimiut, there have been found remains of animal nails as well as harpoons.
The Thule culture
The majority of the population in the city today, represents the descendants of the Thule culture, who arrived almost a thousand years ago. The first records are dated to around the 13th or 14th century. The people of the Thule culture were much more technologically developed than the previous Dorset culture, although they still prospered by hunting walrus, reindeer and especially seals. This is also called a subsistence economy, where the production (hunting) is mainly for private consumption and this was characteristic of the early Thule culture.
The water level was significantly higher than today, and therefore the Sisimiut valley east of the Ulke Bay was partially underwater. This is where most artifacts and historical graves have been found. The coastline between Sisimiut and Kangaamiut had a rich fauna, which made the area attractive to immigration. Because of the large amount of historical artifacts, the area became a candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2003.
The colonial period
There are no clear signs of historical, Nordic settlement in the area. With the establishment of Hans Egedes first Danish colonies, the Dutch whalers dominated the area around Sisimiut. When Hans Egedes “Bergenkompagni” founded a whaling station on Nipisat Island, located about 30 km north of the current city, it was quickly burned down by Dutch prisoners. At the time when Jacob Severin had a monopoly on Greenlandic trade and at the same time served as an agent for the Danish Navy, the Dutch were defeated in a number of important battles in 1738-39.
When the current city was founded in 1764 by the “General Trading Company”, it was named Holsteinsborg, after Count Johan Ludvig Holstein, who was also a chairman for the College of Mission and thereby provided for proper missionary work in the population. The city was built upon the foundation of Amerloq, so named after the fjord of Amerloq near the city. The colonists built several villages in the area, where there only are two left today; Itilleq and Sarfannguit. According to “The Royal Greenland Trade”, Holsteinsborg was the center for the reindeer skin trade.
Many of the original buildings form the 18th-century are still in Sisimiut, including the Old House from 1725 and the Blue Church from 1775, which is the oldest church in Greenland. The Blue Church was originally built in the village of Ukiivik, which until 1764 was named Holsteinsborg. The church was moved to the current location along with the rest of the city. The entrance to the cemetery at the Blue Church is decorated with a unique port of whale jaws. The new church, “Sisimiut Church”, located on the cliff, was built in 1926 and extended in 1984.
In 1801, the city was hit by a copper epidemic that killed 400 inhabitants. The city quickly overcame the decline and grew throughout the 19th century.
1900’s and forwards
When the port was established in the 20th century, the city experienced industrialization. In 1924, Royal Greenland established the first fish factory in Greenland. Fishing is still the primary occupation in Sisimiut with, among other things, a specialization in shrimp industry.
Until 2008, Sisimiut was the administrative center of Sisimiut Municipality, which became the new Qeqqata municipality on January 1st 2009. However, Sisimiut retained its status as an administrative center, which, besides the municipality of Sisimiut, consists of the former Maniitsoq municipality and the former US air base “Kangerlussuaq”, that formerly existed outside municipal divisions. The local council consists of 13 people headed by mayor Malik Berthelsen, and they are represented by the four main parties in Greenland; Siumut, Atassut, Demokraatit and Inuit Ataqatigiit.