Houseboats on Great Slave Lake
Photo: Courtesy Tourism NWT
Spot for a Shore Lunch
Hands on at the Visitor Centre
Yellowknife’s 20,000 people, about half of the Northwest Territory’s population, live in a city spread across the shores of the massive Great Slave Lake. With the boom in mining, it is known as the Diamond Capital of North America, literally “the place of money” in the local Tlicho language. But diamonds are not the only reason the city sparkles. It sits on the edge of a vast, northern wilderness with ample rewards for the visitor, whatever the season.
Yellowknife sits directly under a halo-like ring called the aurora belt, making the Northern Lights the city’s star-attraction. With its clear weather and lack of light pollution and mountains, it is one of the best places in the world to see this spectacular natural light show. Seeing the northern lights is a bucket list experience, which explains the arrival of thousands of Japanese, European and North American tourists. Various aurora watching tour operators ensure that watching the sky dance, even on chilly winter falls evenings, can be done in comfort. Aurora Village allows guests to curl up on a reclining seat on their heated outdoor viewing deck, snacking on hot soup and traditional bannock. Yellowknife Outdoor Adventures takes guests out to their comfortable cabin on the shores of the lake, by boat before the lake freezes and by snowmobile after. Other winter experiences include ice fishing, snowmobiling and exploring the region by ice-road. With over 150 dogs, Beck’s Kennels is one of Canada’s largest professional sled dog kennels, offering snow tours in winter, and land tours in summer.
Summer arrives in June and July with 22 hours of daylight. Having been bottled in by winter, locals make the most of it. In Yellowknife you can work 9 to 5, and then start your day, perhaps with a visit to beautiful Cameron Falls, or a hike along the rocky cliffs of the Prospector Trail in Fred Henne Territorial Park. The fishing is outstanding on the Great Slave Lake, where you can hook trophy-size northern pike, and fly-fish for trout. Residents of the lake’s picturesque houseboats park their cars on the shore, and now use boats to get to and from their homes. Anglers, hunters, hikers and bird-watchers arrive from all over the world, using Yellowknife to discover a territory three times larger than Sweden (population 9.4 million) and almost six times larger than Great Britain (population 62 million). For the remote communities that make up the other half of NWT’s 43,000 population, Yellowknife’s Buffalo Airways serves as a lifeline. The world’s only DC-3 airline (and the subject of the hit television show Ice Pilots NWT) attracts plane enthusiasts and TV fans, discovering that the hangar and characters are exactly as they appear in the show. You can tour the facilities, and take a scenic flight over the lake on their only commercial departure to the town of Hay River.
The most rewarding moments in life are often accompanied by the most challenging ones. Yellowknife, a multicultural city born out of a remote northern outpost, has its long winter challenges, and an “end of the earth” sense of isolation. It also has the incredible space, skies and scenery to wow those bucket listers fortunate enough to visit its shores.