Surrounded by endless expanses of northern lakes, forests and great wilderness, the NWT’s capital city YELLOWKNIFE is named after the copper knives of the First Nations Slavey people. Today, this city of 22,000 attracts adventure seekers who come to experience the city’s legendary hospitality, its Northern Lights, an array of cultural events and a mind-boggling selection of canoe routes and fishing spots. Despite its large-city size, Yellowknife has managed to keep its frontier town atmosphere.
The city’s high-rise core of offices and government buildings exists to administer the NWT and support its population in a region whose resources – despite the discovery of diamonds to the north in 1991 – should by all rights support only a small town. Even the Hudson’s Bay Company closed its trading post here as early as 1823 on the grounds of economics and, except for traces of gold found by prospectors on the way to the Klondike in 1898, the spot was a forgotten backwater until the advent of commercial gold and uranium mining in the 1930s. This prompted the growth of the Old Town on an island and rocky peninsula on Great Slave Lake, and then in 1947 the New Town on the sandy plain behind it. In 1967, the year a road to the outside world was completed (Edmonton is 1524km away by car), Yellowknife replaced Ottawa as the seat of government for the NWT. Oiled by bureaucratic profligacy and the odd gold mine, the city has blossomed ever since.
Much of Yellowknife’s accessible hinterland is an ideal playground for paddlers and naturalists, or for hunters on the trail of the region’s 400,000-strong herd of caribou. Shops around town sell a variety of expensive northern Aboriginal crafts, but these are cheaper than you’ll find in more southerly cities.