It was named by Sir Edward Belcher in 1853, when it provided shelter from moving ice to his expedition in search of Sir John Franklin. Archaeology has shown that this bay has been occupied sporadically over the past 4000 years. Four distinct Palaeo-Inuit occupations between about 2000 BCE and 1000 CE have been recognized, as well as a early Inuit (Thule)-culture occupation of about 1200-1400 CE. Prehistoric hunters were attracted to this area by the presence of an offshore polynia, where currents maintained open water for most or all of the year and which supported a concentration of sea mammals. The area is of interest to archaeology since most of the prehistoric occupations of the High Arctic islands are represented at sites on the beach that surrounds Port Refuge. Port Refuge was declared a National Historic Site in 1978.
See also Prehistory.