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  • Janet Radley

Beyond the Beaten Path - Yellowknife, N.W.T.

Yellowknife is Canada’s Capital of Cool

“Here you’ll find it all. Skyscrapers springing from rocky outcrops at the edge of Great Slave Lake. Sailboats gliding across Back Bay. Float planes soaring in the midnight sun. Famous events, including a cultural festival in a snow palace and a music festival on a sandy shore. A neighbourhood of bright houseboats, all aglow beneath the Aurora. Mansions built next to log cabins and teepees; and a whole bunch of friendly, offbeat locals, having an extraordinary time in the wildest little city on earth.” (Yellowknife tourism)

There have been people living in Northern Canada for 30,000 years and they are now known as The Dene Nation. They are part of the family of Aboriginal cultures known as the Athapaskan people. The “Dene” means “people” in their language and their homeland “Denendeh” means “Land of the People”. The explorer, Samuel Hearne, called them the “Copper Indians” in 1771 due to the implements made from native copper. Explorers and traders seeing their blade tools coined the term Redknife and later Yellowknife to describe the tribe.

In 1789 Alexander MacKenzie canoed into Great Slave Lake and told his voyageurs to trade with the Dene. Old Fort Providence was a small outpost which was located approximately 20 kilometres southwest of Yellowknife Bay.

The Northwest Territories was founded on 15 July 1870 and Yellowknife was founded in 1934. Yellowknife became the capital of the Northwest Territories in 1967. Yellowknife is located on the northern shore of Great Slave Lake and within the traditional territory of the Yellowknife Dene First Nation.

Yellowknife has its’ origin in gold. People travelling north to look for gold in the Klondike staked their first claims in 1898. In 1934 visible gold was discovered by Johnny Baker on the east side of Yellowknife bay and that gave rise to the commercial settlement. In 1991 diamonds were found in the area and now there are 3 diamond mines. The city of Yellowknife is a vibrant city of 20,000 people which is the cultural, economic and government hub for the Northwest Territories.

For people who wish to experience Northern Canada Yellowknife is a wonderful place to start.

The Prince of Wales Heritage Centre was opened in 1979 to house and display documents and objects that reflect the heritage of the Northwest Territories. Works by artists of the Northwest Territories and travelling exhibits from across Canada are on display. There is also a variety of educational programs for all ages.

Old Town is the zany, historic, outdoorsy epicentre of Yellowknife. Around the shores of Great Slave Lake, you will find log cabins and mansions and boathouses as well as art galleries where you can purchase First Nation art. For the foodies you will find fresh-fish restaurants or try the Wildcat Café for a bison burger. Try beer at the first microbrewery in the Northwest Territories, NWT Brewing’s Woodyard pub. You can also taste one of the Arctic-themed beers like Honey Bucket Nut Brown or Ragged Pine Pale Ale or Kick Sled Cream Ale. For sports you might want to go out on the water - you can rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboat by the waterfront.

Bush Pilot’ Monument is for the pilots who died giving their lives to open up the north. It is located on the highest point in Old Town called “the Rock” and has 360 degrees views of Back Bay, boathouses and the float plane aerodrome and the downtown skyline.

Go for a walk on Ragged Ass Road, Yellowknife’s most loved lane. It gets its name from a pair of drunk prospectors who despite hard work found themselves “ragged ass” poor. The city adopted the name as it was better than its previous name of “Privy Road” which was due to the large number of outhouses on the road. It is still a dirt road but posh houses now line the way.

Yellowknife has a winter carnival called Long John Jamboree which takes place at the end of March on Houseboat Bay. There are dogsled and snowmobile races or you can compete in a footrace on an ice road. Ice-carving teams come from all around the world for the annual competitions.

Snowking’s Winter Festival is an annual winter event that also takes place in March. There is a large castle built from snow which is the stage for arts and entertainment. There are music concerts, ice sculpting classes and activities for children. If you want a romantic evening book a cozy “snug” in the castle.

Yellowknife is the best place in the world to see the northern lights and the best time is from mid-November to early April.

For a taste of something different try the recipe below:

Boreal Cranberry Wild Rice and Birch Syrup Pilaf


1.5 tbsp butter

½ cup wild rice

1 cup brown rice

1 onion, finely chopped

1 tsp minced ginger

2 cloves garlic

2 tbsp fresh garden herbs (oregano, thyme, tarragon)

3 cups chicken broth


1 cup cranberries

3 fresh green onions, finely chopped

1 cup birch syrup candied pecans (see below)


¼ tsp fresh minced ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp butter, melted

2 tbsp birch syrup

2 tsp apple cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Birch Syrup Candied Pecans

1 egg white

¼ tsp salt

1-pound pecan halves

2 tbsp birch syrup

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Beat the egg white until frothy. Mix in the pecan halves. Mix in the birch syrup. Spread the pecan halves on a baking sheet and bake in the oven 1 hour or until lightly browned. Stir every fifteen minutes.


Heat oven to 375F. In a dutch oven or stove-top safe casserole dish, sauté the onion, garlic, ginger and fresh garden herbs in butter over low heat. Add the rice. Continue to simmer on low heat for 2 minutes. Add the broth, cover with lid or well-sealed tin foil and cook in the oven for 1 hour or until rice is light and fluffy and the broth has been absorbed.

Meanwhile, combine sauce ingredients in a small blender. Stir in the sauce to pilaf after it has been removed from the oven. Add the cranberries, green onions, and candied pecans, leaving some of these ingredients aside to add as a garnish.

These are just a few of the things to see and do in Yellowknife.

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