Qasigiannguit –”little speckled seals” – is the second oldest town in Greenland and the second largest in Kommune Qeqertalik, after Aasiaat. The town used to be the principal town and administrative centre of the former Qasigiannguit Municipality. From Qasigiannguit to Aasiaat, there are approximately 65 km, there are less than 60 km to Ilulissat and approximately 35 km to the inland ice. After the merger of municipalities, the town has no settlements.
The town is situated on a peninsula in the inner Disko Bay from where an inlet – Havnebugten – cuts into the country. The town is situated on the north of the bay, near a number of smaller islands and surrounded by steep mountains to the north and south, and by the green valley – Sletten – to the east. From the mountains, there is a view over the town, Ilulissat Ice Fjord, Disko Island and the inland mountains. One of the surrounding islands, Quilik, is connected with the land through an embankment. Here is one of the town's two port facilities as well as an industrial area. The oldest buildings and the dinghy port are located further into the inlet.
In between the two districts is the town centre, built in the 1960s, with shops, church, hospital and other key institutions, as well as multi-storey residential buildings. South of the town centre is the residential area of Quikoq, and to the north and north-east are newer industrial and residential areas. The town has preserved its original, intimate atmosphere with a complex and colourful open-spaced urban environment, where all features and facilities are within walking distance. At the same time, a large part of the town's supply systems and infrastructure carries the stamp of having been established in decades of growth.
Due to the good sealing and whaling conditions, the area has been home to settlements for a long time. 4,500 years ago, the first people settled on the island of Qeqertasussuk, situated approximately 30 km southwest of Qasigiannguit, where a settlement from the Saqqaq culture has been excavated. Qasigiannguit was founded as a trading colony in the summer of 1734 by Danish merchant Jacob Severin and named Christianshåb after the Danish king Christian VI. The colony was originally situated by Bryghusbugten bay (Illukut), south of Havnevigen, but in 1763 it was relocated to its current location where the wind conditions are better. The ruins of the old colony still exist.
With the development of shrimp fishing in the 1950s and 1960s, the town grew tremendously, and the number of inhabitants increased from 300 to 1,400. The population peaked in the early 1980s with about 1,800 inhabitants. When the shrimp factory closed in 1999, a period of decline began, but after reopening of the fish factory resulting in increased fishing and the opening of a new continuation school, there are once again signs of prosperity in Qasigiannguit.
First and foremost, Qasigiannguit aims at creating new opportunities for business and industry. It is not just about further developing the existing fishing production to involving a greater degree of processing, but also about developing prospective mining activities and in particular tourism, which already today plays an important role due to the town's beautiful location and characteristic look. Such development, however, requires improving areas for activities and culture, as well as meeting basic requirements for infrastructure and supply systems. Furthermore, the potential in hydropower should soon be realised to the benefit of the environment, the industry and the citizens.
Finally, Qasigiannguit is to continue to develop and strengthen as an educational town.
The municipality’s overall vision and objectives guide the physical development along with the citizens’ wishes. Consequently, the outcome differs across towns and settlements as shown here:
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On 1 January 2017, there were 1,171 inhabitants in Qasigiannguit, corresponding to barely seventeen per cent of the municipality's inhabitants, but the population has generally declined since the 1980s. In 1980 there were thus 1,771 inhabitants in the town, but then the number declined by 36% until today.
There are 446 households in Qasigiannguit, which gives an average household size of 2.5 persons. On 1 January 2010, there were 586 homes in Qasigiannguit town, of which 37 per cent were single-family houses (217), 16 per cent semi-detached houses (96) and barely 47 per cent multi-storey residential buildings (273). None of these were in dormitories, while 23 were senior homes at the retirement home.
Having experienced stagnation in recent years, the town's housing situation is reasonable, but there is still a need for continuous rehabilitation and redevelopment. In a few of the existing residential areas, there is some remaining capacity, and two brand new residential areas are zoned northernmost in the town. At present, the remaining residential capacity is estimated to approximately 200 homes.
Fishing, sealing and whaling are the primary trades in Qasigiannguit. In the area surrounding the town, seals, musk oxen and whales are hunted. Through the ages, the town has been best known for shrimp fishing, but after Royal Greenland took over the former shrimp factory in 2000, production shifted focus towards Greenland halibut, roe, fillets, crabs etc. The factory is one of the biggest workplaces in Greenland with approximately 130 employees.
The areas for industry in Qasigiannguit are relatively sporadic. The mining areas, which also hold environmentally damaging businesses, are located in the northern part of the town or on Sletten. In addition, a number of areas can hold manufacturing industries, small-scale industrial enterprises, construction and craft as well as port functions and port-related industries. Compared to the fishing industry, these industries only generate few permanent jobs. In general, the remaining capacity of the zoned industrial areas is considered good.
Qasigiannguit has been designated a supplementary supply base for the license blocks in Disko West, having two related business areas, one on Quilik (Spækholmen) and another between Havnebugten and the heliport. The areas have been zoned for industry, warehouses and port facilities and constitute a total area of 22.8 hectares. Being a supplementary supply base, Qasigiannguit will cooperate with another town, e.g. Aasiaat, so new areas for, e.g., housing will not be needed. However, the raw material industry is to be developed at the same pace as the town’s other business potentials are realised.
In 2010, there were 597 jobs in Qasigiannguit. The two largest trades in terms of the number of jobs were public administration and service with 36 per cent (218), and trade and repair with 35.5 per cent (212). The transport sector employed 48 persons, while 53 people worked in other industries. The unemployment rate in Qasigiannguit was 10.9% in 2015 and is therefore close to the municipal average of 10.7% and slightly higher than the national average (9.1%).
The local tourism is based on the natural attractions and the characteristic warm climate of the area. For instance, the terrain is very well suited for short and longer hikes in the mountains or to the rim of the inland ice, Bings Cave, Eqalunnguit/Strømstedet or Qaqqarsuaq. Several of the routes are marked, including a northbound route to the settlement of Ilimanaq. During the summer, excursions by boat to more destinations or whale watching are offered, while in the winter, tourists can go dog sledging or ice fishing. The local museum also has an important role to play in relation to tourism, among other things by the "Project Living Dwelling" and not least Hotel Disco Bay, situated close to the port. In recent years, the town has repeatedly received cruise ships.
In the town plan, the remaining capacity for industry and port facilities is estimated at approximately 47,000 m2.
The town has a number of established roads, paths and steps. The system of roads is comprised of four primary roads, of which three radiate from the town centre and the fourth leads to the dump. The other town roads are of secondary importance. In the winter, a number of winter roads in the urban area are used as well as sledge roads north and south of the town. Several of the roads are in need of maintenance.
In the summer season, transport to Qasigiannguit can be by boat. The trip on ship from Ilulissat takes three to four hours (or 1½ hour by speedboat). Besides that, private motor boats are used, and in the winter, means of transport include dog sledges, snowmobiles or skis.
The airfield of Qasigiannguit is constructed as a heliport without hangar space. It takes approximately 15 minutes to fly to the town from Ilulissat. There are also flights to Aasiaat and Qeqertarsuaq. The municipal council has decided to construct a runway for fixed-wing aircrafts in Qasigiannguit. The final location, layout and design as well as road access are yet to be clarified in more detailed studies, in cooperation with the Government of Greenland and Greenland Airports. Typically, establishment and financing of airports are a matter for the Government of Greenland. Airports are owned and operated by Greenland Airports.
The port in Qasigiannguit consists of two quays. At Quilik (Spækholmen), there is a traffic port consisting of a 40-metre Atlantic quay and a 55-metre schooner jetty with a depth of about eight metres. At the colonial city and the former factory, there is a 75-metre cutter jetty with a depth of three to four metres. Furthermore, there are three municipally owned pontoon bridges used by smaller boats. The port areas cover an area of approximately 14,000 m2 (1.4 ha), of which only a part is developed. The port is called at by feeder vessels, and during the summer period, Disko Line sails passengers Ilulissat and Aasiaat on a daily basis. Qasigiannguit is navigable from June to December; however, from January to May, the port is usually closed by the sea ice. In the bay between the two docks, Naalakkersuisut has designated a port authority area.
Nukissiorfiit provides power, water and heat. Diesel generators generate electric power while heat is generated by oil burners. However, for years, there have been plans to build a hydro power station at Kuussuup Tasia to supply the town. The town is supplied with water extracted from Qorlortup Tasia (Lake 6), which is distributed through a system of electrically heated, frost-proof, pre-insulated wires, tanker trucks and bottling houses. Water catchment opportunities in Qasigiannguit are among the best in Greenland.
The sewer system covers the town centre equivalent to approximately 45 per cent of the homes. Night-soil collection services for the remaining homes consist of removal and emptying of buckets into the sea. A few households have sludge tanks. Grey wastewater is discharged above ground or into ditches. Day-time refuse is collected and deposited at the dump, while environmentally hazardous waste is shipped to Denmark.
All telecommunication is handled by TELE Greenland.
The town centre holds the local government offices, the police station, the library, Tele-Post (combined telephone shop and post office), Pilersuisoq, several shops and kiosks and the grill bar. Here also lies Disko Bay Hotel, facing the port, with 14 rooms and a restaurant. In addition, private accommodation is available. The town also has a hospital, which is designated a health-care centre, and a dental clinic. The retirement home of the town accommodates approximately 20 residents. Finally, Qasigiannguit has a number of day-care centres – kindergartens as well as day nurseries - and there are plans for a new institution at Affarlequtaa in the northern part of the town.
The very centre of the town only has limited remaining capacity; however, the remaining capacity of the newer centre area around the sports centre and the vocational training centres by Poul Hansensvej is good. In addition, there is available capacity in the town development areas that have been zoned for a community centre and residential areas in the northern part of the town.
The two-form entry school Juunarsip Atuarfia numbers 160 pupils in forms 1 through 10. There is before-and-after-school care for pupils in forms 1 and 2 and a club for pupils in all forms. The school also has a school library sharing the premises with the local library.
Qasigiannguit also has a local vocational school with room for 36 students (Piareersarfik). In 2009, the continuation school Villads Villadsen opened, accommodating 80 students between 16 and 18 years. The school is successful in that around 70 per cent of the students start on a youth education after having finished school. Future extension of educational institutions, dormitories etc. are to be placed in the centre area by Poul Hansensvej.