A Brief History of the Inuksuk

You might have seen one along the highway to Whistler, on the top of Whistler Blackcomb or represented in artwork throughout Canada; but what is an inuksuk (plural inuksuit, anglicized spelling inukshuk), where does it come from and what does it signify?

A snowy Inuksuk stands in the sunshine on a winter's day on Whistler Blackcomb.
Find this inuksuk at the top of the Peak Chair on Whistler Mountain. PHOTO MIKE CRANE

In Canada, inuksuit are mainly used by the Inuit people in the northern regions. An inuksuk is usually a few stones or boulders placed on top of each other, but it could be a singular vertical stone or a massive pile of stones built up over time by many hands (some have been over two meters). They are used as markers to note a certain route, hunting ground, camping spot, dangerous place or even a place of honour. 

INSIDER TIP: Inuksuit are not a symbol used by the Squamish Nation or Lil’wat Nation. To find out more about Indigenous culture in the Sea to Sky, visit the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre during your time here. Local, cultural ambassadors will give you a guided tour and discuss the history and vibrant culture of both the Squamish Nation and Lil’wat Nation, who have been living on these lands since time immemorial.

Whistler’s Connection to the Inuksuk

You might be familiar with a certain type of inuksuk called an inunnguaq (inn-a-quake). It’s the human-like stone structure that formed the basis of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games logo, designed by Vancouver artist, Elena Rivera MacGregor.

Inuksuk on Village Gate Boulevard.
A legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, this inuksuk stands at the entrance to Whistler Village. PHOTO MIKE CRANE

As well as being a navigational aid, the inunnguaq is a symbol of northern hospitality and friendship. For Whistler, the inunnguaq served not only as a visual representation of the wider country’s rich heritage but also the spirit of teamwork and community.

INSIDER TIP: If you’d like to find out more about Whistler’s Olympic history, a great place to visit is the Whistler Museum in the heart of Whistler Village. Another way to explore is via the Go Whistler Tours app, which has a selection of self-guided routes which tell you about different aspects of Whistler.
The Inuksuk behind a couple enjoying lunch at the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain.
The inuksuk at the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain. PHOTO JUSTA JESKOVA

6 Places to Find an Inuksuk in Whistler

  1. Welcoming you to Whistler when you turn off Highway 99 and onto Village Gate Boulevard.
  2. At the back of the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Blackcomb (winter ski and sightsee, and summer sightsee access).
  3. At the top of the Peak Chair on Whistler Mountain (winter ski, and summer sightseeing access).
  4. The top of the 7th Heaven Express on Blackcomb Mountain (winter ski access only).
  5. At the start of the Burnt Stew trail of the Harmony 6 Express on Whistler Mountain (winter ski access only).
  6. Whistler’s gift shops. My top picks are The Nook of the North and Carlbergs Gift Shop, both along the Whistler Village Stroll and if you’re in Creekside, Get the Goods.

Inuksuk Carving at Fathom Stone Art Gallery

At the Fathom Stone Art Gallery, you can make your own inunnguaq. I never would have thought you could carve a piece of art without having to spend years learning how to do it, but in their two-hour class, you can do just that! I’ve done it, and it was a fun, unique experience that left me with a treasured keepsake.

A mother and daughter make a soap stone Inuksuk at the Fathom Stone Art Gallery in Whistler.
Make your own inuksuk at Fathom Stone Art Gallery. PHOTO MIKE CRANE

The gallery is located in the Westin Resort and Spa and classes run daily. The gallery is also a beautiful place to explore, be inspired or perhaps take home something to remember Whistler by.

Don’t Build Your Own Inuksuk in Nature

Although it’s tempting to go through the meditative exercise of balancing the rocks that make up an inuksuk, it’s disruptive to the ecosystem. In an article printed in Pique Newsmagazine by local biologist, Leslie Anthony he explains that:

“As with much of nature, the ground beneath your feet is a world unto itself; a microcosm of wilderness, home and habitat to countless creatures from lichens to bacteria, colonizing plants, insects (including pollinating butterflies and bees), spiders, pikas, marmots and birds—all of which, on an alpine mountaintop, are linked in some way to a fragile web centred on rocks.” Leslie Anthony, biologist, writer and author.

So, although it’s tempting, don’t build your own. Instead, support a local artist by purchasing a piece of artwork that features an Inuksuk. A great place to visit to connect with the local arts scene is Arts Whistler at the Maury Young Arts Centre, where there’s a free gallery, local artist’s gift shop and information on events and workshops.

Photos being taken in front of the Inuksuk at the top of Peak Chair on Whistler Mountain.
The inuksuk at the top of Peak Chair is open both in the winter and summer. PHOTO JUSTA JESKOVA

Happy  Whistler inuksuk hunting!

Book your winter trip now to secure up to 25% off lodging and 33% off rentals. Thinking about spring skiing? Receive a $75 après voucher for every third night booked.

Come experience Whistler Blackcomb’s extensive terrain and adventure at every turn to see why we're known as one of the best resorts on the planet. Secure your mountain getaway with Whistler.com for personalized service and the local knowledge of our Whistler-based team. Want to win a winter trip for two to Whistler? Check out our Drop In to Winter contest.

Author

Alexander Emm is a high school student and self-proclaimed nerd. He loves books, building stuff, the outdoors, making movies, and anything to do with space. He works part-time as a tennis coach at the Whistler Racket Club and as a journalist.