Yellowknife is a city like no other. It sits on the north shore of Great Slave Lake, the ninth-largest lake in the world, and the deepest recorded lake in North America. It is a friendly and welcoming community, with the amenities of a large city, in a vast subarctic expanse of rivers, lakes and boreal forest. No matter where you are in the city you are only minutes away from nature, trails, abundant wildlife, forests and lakes.
Yellowknife is built atop the Canadian Shield, a large expanse of ancient rock known as the Slave Geological Province. The oldest rocks in the region date back four billion years to when the planet was young. In these ancient volcanic rocks, treasures can be found. Gold, silver, tungsten, copper, and diamonds have all been mined in the Yellowknife region. Unique geologic landforms shape the landscape.
In the 1930s, prospectors found gold on the shores of Great Slave Lake and a mining community was born. You can still see some of the original buildings, and wander picturesque “Old Town” and its lanes, echoing with stories of ingenuity, grit and determination mixed with a colourful joie de vivre.
Today, Yellowknife is home to 20,000 people, including Dene, Métis, and Inuit from across the Northwest Territories, and settlers from around the world. Yellowknife, also known as Somba K’e, was built on Chief Drygeese Territory, traditional land of the Yellowknives Dene.
The nearby communities of Dettah and Ndilo are home to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. For generations, the Dettah area has been used as a summertime gathering site, eventually growing into one of the two Yellowknives Dene Communities. Dettah is accessible by road, only a 15 minute drive from downtown Yellowknife, and even shorter in the winter when an ice road is built across Yellowknife Bay.
Ndilo is also easily accessible as it is located on the north end of Latham Island, adjacent to the City of Yellowknife. Despite being located next to Yellowknife, Ndilo remains independent and distinct community. The area has always been an important fishing and berry picking spot, with access to prime hunting areas. Ndilo became a permanent settlement in the early 1940s.
The north shore of Great Slave Lake is home to the Dene First Nations. Their descendants continue to live in Yellowknife and the surrounding communities of Dettah and Ndilo. Their Athapascan language has similarities to other North American Dene languages. To greet a Dene, you shake hands, as there is no direct translation for hello and goodbye in Athapaskan languges. Some common Dene words and phrases include: Mahsi Cho ("Thank you very much"), Somba K'e ("The Money Place" know in English as Yellowknife), Deton Cho (“Big Eagle”), Tidèè ("Great Slave Lake"), Ekwǫ̀ ("Caribou"), Hę́ę́ ("Yes") and į́le ("No").
From Beijing to Budapest, Coral Harbour to Cape Town and Osaka to Oslo; it’s estimated that over 25 languages (including our own 11 official languages) are spoken in Yellowknife. Chances are, you might just meet someone from your own Canadian home town or your home country, living and working here in Yellowknife.
The Yellowknife Story
People used to claim that the Yellowknife streets are paved with gold. It's sort of true, and if you check the sidewalk in front of the Bank of Commerce you'll find a sample of Yellowknife gold. The two mines, Con Mine and Giant Mine, produced gold for over 60 years, and mine tunnels burrow far below the city streets, and even out under Yellowknife Bay.
Strangely, our name, Yellowknife, comes from copper mining by Indigenous peoples in the area north of Yellowknife before the arrival of Europeans. The explorer Samuel Hearne trekked through that country in 1770, and encountered Indigenous people who used copper-bladed knives. Their rendezvous near the mouth of a river on Great Slave Lake became known as Yellowknife. Arctic enthusiasts have also heard of Sir John Franklin, who passed through here, in 1821, on his epic journey to the Arctic coast. The locations sketched by Midshipman Hood who travelled with Franklin, are easy to recognize even today.
A prospector en route to the Klondike first reported gold in Yellowknife Bay in 1898, but the find was too remote and was forgotten in the rush to claim Klondike riches. With the development of aviation and new government interest in the north during the 1920s-1930s, prospectors returned to Great Slave Lake. Johnny Baker and Herb Dixon discovered gold on the Yellowknife River in 1933. Returning the following year, Baker made a chance observation of very high-grade gold on the east shore of Yellowknife Bay, in September 1934. The discovery was named the Burwash, and a small mine operated from 1935 to 1936. Government geologists arrived at Yellowknife Bay in the summer of 1935 to map the potential.
More prospectors arrived and more gold discoveries were claimed. It was the Great Depression, and times were tough in southern Canada. Downtrodden families headed north for new opportunities by scow and boat, across one of the largest and wildest lakes in the world. They set up a tent camp in what is now Old Town, surrounded by glistening Precambrian rock outcrops.
In just two years, Yellowknife was a boom town, with an RCMP constable, a doctor, hotels, restaurants, and a theatre. The first gold bar was poured in September 1938 at the Con Mine, and several other mines followed. The little tent camp quickly became permanent, and after a lull during World War II, expanded to a larger area (centered on 50th Avenue and 50th Street) that became known as New Town.
Yellowknife was named capital of the Northwest Territories in 1967, when the territorial government moved from Ottawa to Yellowknife. We became a City in 1970. The only city in the Northwest Territories to date, we are now the mining, communications and government centre for this vast northern territory.
In the last few years, with the same frontier spirit that built the city, Yellowknifers helped develop the first Canadian diamond mine, northeast of the city. It was five years in the making and cost more than a billion dollars. Yellowknife is now the service centre for three diamond mines.
For more information on the City of Yellowknife go to: www.yellowknife.ca.