The history of this area can be traced back some 4000 years to a group called pre-Dorset, who left evidence of early habitation. Successive waves of northern peoples included the Dorset people, who may have encountered the Vikings. The ruins of a Dorset or Tuniit longhouse can be seen a short drive from Cambridge Bay. Stone tent rings and and stone food caches are fairly common in the area. These are thought to have belonged to the Thule people, who hunted sea mammals, and are considered the ancestors of today's Inuit.
Inuit have travelled, hunted and fished in this area for hundreds of years. Change came in the 1920s when traders, including the Hudson's Bay Company, and the RCMP set up bases on the sheltered shores of Cambridge Bay. The Anglican church set up a mission in the 1920s, and the Roman Catholic Church arrived in the 1940s. A long range navigational beacon called Loran was established in 1947, and a small community of Inuit set up shop in Old Town on the east side of the bay about that time. Construction of CAM MAIN in 1955, one of the largest manned stations in the North Warning System, offered job opportunities to hundreds of Inuit, who settled nearby.
Schools and municipal services soon followed.
Today the community has Hamlet status and operates under the direction of a Mayor and Council.
The Northwest Passage
An impressive list of Arctic explorers have used the sheltered waters of Cambridge Bay as a winter haven and port of call in their efforts to find the Northwest Passage. Warren Dease and Thomas Simpson named the bayon the south shore of Victoria Island after an earlier Duke of Cambridge, in 1839, on their epic Northwest Passage mapping trip. Dr John Rae stopped here in search of the Franklin expedition in 1851, and Captain Richard Collinson on the same quest stopped here in 1852-53. Roald Amundsen visited in 1905, and Wilhamur Steffanson, the Canadian explorer, visited in 1910.
The Martin Berkman a Canadian Coast Guard ship, wintered here in 2012-13, in preparation for resuming the search for evidence of the lost Franklin expedition. The Franklin mystery has challenged writers and explorers for more than 160 years. The Canadian government is financing a second year of research hoping to discover the wreck of at least one of Franklin's two ships, which was reported by Inuit to have sunk nearby.