Built on dreams, perseverance, and the ingenuity of a small group of pioneers who came in search of gold, the territorial capital of Yellowknife has grown into a modern urban center of 16,000. Its frontier-town flavor and independent spirit distinguish it from all other Canadian cities. It’s the northernmost city in Canada, the only city in the Northwest Territories, and the only predominantly nonnative community in the territories.
Located on the North Arm of the Great Slave Lake, the city clings precariously to the ancient, glacial-scarred rock of the Canadian Shield. Edmonton is 1,530 kilometers (950 miles) south by road, 965 kilometers (600 miles) by air. The Arctic Circle is 440 kilometers (273 miles) north.
At first, Yellowknife looks little different from other small Canadian cities, but unique contrasts soon become apparent. Some residents write computer programs for a living, whereas others prepare caribou hides; architect-designed houses are scattered among squatters’ log cabins; and the roads are seemingly always under repair, a legacy of permafrost. To the Dene, Yellowknife is known as Som bak’e (Place of Money).
The Northern Frontier Regional Visitors Centre (4807 49th St., 867/873-4262 or 877/881-4261, www.northernfrontier.com, June–Aug. daily 8:30 a.m.–6 p.m., the rest of the year Mon.–Fri. 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Sat.–Sun. noon–4 p.m.) overlooks Frame Lake. It’s stocked with brochures on everything you’ll need to know about Yellowknife, historic photographs, and interesting displays.
Getting to Yellowknife
Yellowknife Airport, five kilometers (3.1 miles) west of the city along Highway 3, is the hub of air travel in the Northwest Territories. It’s open daily 24 hours, has an inexpensive café (5:30 a.m.–10 p.m.), a bar, lockers, and rental car desks. First Air (867/669-8500 or 800/267-1247) uses Yellowknife as its western hub, with flights arriving and departing daily from Edmonton, Inuvik, and many Nunavut communities. Other airlines flying in and out of the capital include Canadian North (867/873-4484 or 800/661-1505), and Northwestern Air (867/872-2216 or 877/872-2216).
Frontier Coachlines (113 Kamlake Rd., 867/873-4892) offers bus service five times weekly from Hay River to Yellowknife, with connections from there to Greyhound’s other Canadian services.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition