Until 1967, this town of 2,300 was the territorial capital. Fort Smith still functions as an administrative center for various governmental offices and is the educational center for the Northwest Territories . The town was established because of formidable rapids on the Slave River, a vital link for all travelers heading north.
In 1872, the Hudson’s Bay Company opened a post, later known as Fort Fitzgerald, at the southern end of the rapids. Two years later, the company established a fort near the northern end of the portage route, at Fort Smith.
Most people who venture to Fort Smith do so to visit Wood Buffalo National Park , but there are a couple of interesting sights within town limits.
In the 1920s, when Fort Smith was the capital of the Northwest Territories, administrative duties fell to the local bishop, whose house and gardens are now part of Fort Smith Mission Historic Park (corner of Mercredi Ave. and Breynat St., 867/874-6702, free). Declared a Territorial Historic Park in 1991, it’s an ongoing restoration project; at this stage, interpretive signs explain the various buildings, and gardens are planted for each summer.
The fort-shaped Northern Life Museum (110 King St., 867/872-2859, daily 1–5 p.m. June–Aug., free) houses many artifacts collected by early missionaries, including dog-mushing equipment, Inuit carvings, and the first printing press in the north.
Along the riverfront on Marine Drive is the Slave River Lookout. Use the spotting scope here to search out white pelicans nesting on rocks scattered through the river.
Thebacha Bed & Breakfast (53 Portage Ave., 867/872-2060, www.taigatour.com , $80 s, $100 d) offers four guest rooms, breakfast, and the use of a kitchen in a centrally located residence. For motel accommodations, consider Pelican Rapids Inn (152 McDougal Rd., 867/872-2789, $140 s or d), with 31 basic but spacious rooms.
The only campground close to town is the Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park, four kilometers (2.5 miles) west toward the airport; turn north on Teepee Trail Road. Sites cost $17 per night and are spread out and private, with pit toilets and cooking shelters. Showers and flush toilets are available in the warden’s compound.