Qeqertarsuaq is situated on Disko Island and is named “the big island” after the island. The town is located approximately 100 km from Ilulissat and approximately 70 km from Aasiaat. Qeqertarsuaq has a single settlement: Kangerluk.
Qeqertarsuaq is beautifully located on the southern end of a peninsula. Just north of the town are a number of high mountains: Apostelfjeldet, Lyngmarksfjeldet and Skarvefjellet (Innap Qaqqaa). The oldest buildings are located on the south side of the port, which held a small passage back in the day. The town centre with houses, services and public and private centre functions is located next to the old town. The newer residential and industrial areas are situated to the north and south.
Traces of settling 5-6,000 years back have been found at Qeqertarsuaq. The settlers were paleo-eskimos wandering south. The colony of Godhavn (Qeqertarsuaq) was founded in 1773 by whaler Svend Sandgreen. War, national bankruptcy and lack of stationed ships led to a stagnation of the town in the nineteenth century, and for a period, the whaling at Godhavn ceased. In the period from 1782 to 1950, Qeqertarsuaq was the capital of North Greenland, and the administrative centre and home of North Greenland’s provincial council. After the German occupation of Denmark in 1940, the provincial councils for North and South Greenland met in Godhavn and agreed upon the so-called Godhavn Declaration. It was decided that Greenland should carry out an independent foreign policy and tie a strong connection to the USA, thereby securing the conditions for Greenland during the entire war. In return, the USA established military bases in Greenland. Another consequence of the meeting in Godhavn was that the entire Greenlandic administration was centralised in Nuuk. The chief administrative officer’s office in Godhavn was abolished in 1950.
Disko Island is the largest island in Greenland and, geologically speaking, a lot younger and very different from the mainland. Large parts of the island consist of characteristic, steep basaltic mountains evolved through volcanic activity many million years ago. The island has great natural qualities, including three Ramsar areas – Aqajarua-Sullorsuaq, Kuannersuit Kuussuat and Qinguata Marraa-Kuussuaq – along with some of Greenland’s best locations for whaling safaris. There are also several glaciers on the island, of which Sermersuaq (“the big glacier”) is the largest. The Lyngmarksbræen glacier is situated just north of Qeqertarsuaq, at a height of approximately 700 metres, stretching almost 10 km inland. The island has many hot springs, lush mountains and valleys with a rich botanical life and, in the summer, big waterfalls with melting water from the glaciers.
Qeqertarsuaq is to continue to develop as a local town with a primary supply of public and private service. The town has a special potential with regard to further development of the raw material production and, e.g., within water resources, fishing, new agricultural opportunities and tourism. Furthermore, we are to consider the role of the town and island in relation to the offshore/onshore business, where it has been granted status as supplementary supply base regarding industry, port and airport.
It is necessary for Qeqertarsuaq to experience business development or is assigned a special role, e.g. within the educational area, to match its population trends. This also calls for an upgrade of infrastructure in the town and on the island, including improvements of public facilities like playgrounds, meeting places etc.
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, the town had 853 inhabitants, compared to 941 inhabitants in 1980 – a figure which increased until 1994 (1,125). The population has since then decreased, albeit with fluctuations and stability for periods of time.
On 1 January 2010, there were 426 homes in Qeqertarsuaq, and 71 per cent were single-family houses (302), 20 per cent semi-detached houses (85) and nine per cent residential multi-storey buildings (39). There are no student housing (dormitories), but 16 homes at retirement homes. There were a total of 340 households in the town, equalling an average household size of almost 2.5 persons, which is very close to the municipal average. Low buildings are abundant in the town and new buildings should be adapted to the existing buildings.
Part of the existing building stock needs to be rehabilitated, and some houses are empty. The remaining capacity of the zoned residential areas corresponds to around 240 homes, which is considered sufficient for the planning period.
Historically, whaling has been of great importance to the town. Sealing, whaling and fishing are still the main trades in Qeqertarsuaq, including Greenland halibut fishing. Royal Greenland has a production facility in the town, which primarily receives crabs, cod and roe and produces crab sections, fish blocks and roe in barrels. The number of employees varies from three full-time employees during the slow season to around 30 in the peak season.
Greenland Springwater ApS operates in another type of local raw material production, and owns the rights to tapping and marketing spring water from Disko Island. The company is located in Switzerland, but has production and bottling facilities and storage buildings in Qeqertarsuaq. However, the company has experienced some start-up difficulties, among other things due to lack of storage and transport facilities in the port, and it creates very few jobs
In 2010, there were 349 jobs in Qeqertarsuaq. The three largest trades in terms of number of jobs were: public administration and service at 46 per cent (161), trade and repair at 23 per cent (80), and fishing at almost 11 per cent (37). The unemployment rate in Qeqertarsuaq was 10.3% in 2015, which is close to the average in the municipality Qeqertalik (10.7%) and slightly higher than the national average (9.1%).
Areas for industry, trade, port, tank installation and polluting industries are situated on the outskirts of town. The town’s private businesses include, e.g., ten businesses within building and construction. The zoned areas are estimated to hold another 172,000 m2.
Qeqertarsuaq has been named a potential supplementary supply base during the expansion and production stages for the license blocks in Disko West. This would entail an expansion of the existing port or construction of a new port. Two areas are zoned for related industries and/or port facilities. One of the areas is situated northwest of the town (industry and port facilities plus warehousing), and the other east of Røde Elv river The water resources are substantial and the town can supply operators with water. As a supplementary supply base, the town will participate in a work share with Aasiaat, so new areas for housing etc. will not be necessary.
Lastly, Qeqertarsuaq has a long list of offers within tourism, such as hiking, dog sledge and snowmobile trips. There are also glacier trips, e.g. to Sermersuaq where you can go skiing and the like. In the summer, dog sledge rides on the Lyngmarksfjeldet mountain and the Lyngmarksbræen glacier including a night in a hut, Lyngmarkshytten, are on offer. The Lyngmarksbræen glacier can also be reached by a couple of hours of hiking from Qeqertarsuaq. There are organised trips on winter ice and in the summer, there are whale safaris by boat. The area offers plenty of good hiking opportunities, e.g. to the tip of the peninsula, Qaqqaliaq (“the observer”), from where you spotted whales in the old days, or across the Røde Elv river along the coast to Kuannit, Blæsedalen valley and up the Skarvefjeldet mountain. Settlement tourism takes tourists to, e.g., Kangerluk or to the abandoned coal mining town of Qullissat on the east coast of Disko Island. Qeqertarsuaq boasts a hotel with a restaurant, several hostels and a camping area. All of which provides a profound basis for developing the tourist industry.
There is a relatively well-established system of roads in Qeqertarsuaq. Three primary roads connect the various parts of town: an overall east-west running road (from the Arctic Station to the night-soil receiving facility), a road from the town centre to the dump south of town, and a diagonal road connecting the two primary roads south of town. However, the system of roads is in general need of maintenance. The infrastructure also includes sledge tracks leading out of town, to the northwest, south and east.
There are no pavements in Qeqertarsuaq, so pedestrians have to use the roads and paths between the houses. The town’s paths are not interconnected and they are of varying quality.
Most large areas for technical supply plants and infrastructure are located on the outskirts or outside of the town area. The airfield is a heliport located at Black Sands beach east of town. Air Greenland services the town several times a week during the winter, providing connections to Aasiaat or Ilulissat. The municipal council has decided to construct a runway for fixed-wing aircrafts in Qeqertarsuag. 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.
Qeqertarsuaq is navigable regularly from June to November. The port in Qeqertarsuaq has two quays: One is 12 metres in length and five metres deep, and one is a 15-metre trawler quay of a depth of 6.5 metres. The port area has limited room for storage. Passenger transport is serviced by Disko Line, with several weekly departures to Aasiaat and Ilulissat from April to December. Between the two docks and out to the sea, Naalakkersuisut has designated a port authority area.
Nukissiorfiit supplies Qeqertarsuaq with power and water. The power production is generated by diesel generators. Water is collected from a spring, Lyngmarkskilden, and distributed by a network of electrically heated, frost-proof and pre-insulated pipes, water tanks and bottling houses. Lyngmarkskilden has a very large capacity and is therefore used for producing bottled spring water. Heating is supplied by individual oil-fired burners or stoves. The existing sewage system includes all major public institutions and the newer estate (semi-detached houses). Wastewater is discharged into the sea east of town, close to Black Sands beach. The older town area and the majority of the detached and semi-detached houses are not sewered, so grey wastewater is discharged above ground. Day-time refuse is collected and deposited at the dump where it is burned in the open since there is no local incineration plant. Night soil is collected and taken to the receiving facility where it is dumped into the sea. Oil and chemical waste are also collected and deposited at the dump. A receiving facility has been established in connection with a current pilot project.
Night soil and tank installations are situated close to existing and new residential areas, meaning that it could become necessary to find alternative locations in the future to enable further town development towards the west and south.
Telecommunications is managed by TELE Greenland. There are two mast areas; southeast of town and southernmost on the peninsula.
A municipal office, a post office, a school, a sports hall and a church are all situated in the central town area. There is also a KNI shop, several small shops and news agents, a café and a fast-food place along with a tourist office, a travel agency and a police station. There is a hotel – Hotel Disko (with Restaurant Arthur) – and even several hostels – Panorama Hostel, Siorarsuit Hostel, Napasunnguit Hostel, Fox Hostel, Island Hostel – and a camping site at Røde Elv river.
Qeqertarsuaq has a combined day nursery/kindergarten, a family day care, a drop-in centre and a retirement home. The town is also a regional health-care centre, featuring a hospital and a dental clinic.
Qeqertarsuup Atuarfia school has approximately 150 pupils aged 6 to 16 years, and it offers before-and after-school care. The library is also the school library. There is also a local vocational school (Piareersarfik).
The Arctic Station is situated on Østerlien east of the town and is operated by the University of Copenhagen. The station carries out scientific arctic research and teaching in biology, geology and geography. Field studies are carried out throughout Disko Bay. The station is visited by scientists, master students and students from all over the world as well as Greenlandic course participants. The station is permanently staffed by the chief scientist, the chief of logistics and the captain of the R/V 'Porsild'. The town is also home to a magnetic observatory and an ionosphere station.