Yellowknife has a reputation as a friendly little city, a happy reminder of its frontier past. The City of Yellowknife 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 unique urban outpost, with the amenities of a large city, in a vast subarctic wilderness. You are only minutes away from nature trails, lakes, abundant wildlife, and waterfalls.
Yellowknife sits 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 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 community was born. You can still see some of the original buildings, and wander the picturesque streets and lanes echoing with stories of danger, determination and joie de vivre.
Today Yellowknife is a culturally rich capital of the Northwest Territories, and home to 20,000 people. Many indigenous people living here are descendants of the Yellowknives, Tlicho and Metis families who have historical ties to the area. Settlers have arrived from around the world. We estimate that we speak over 25 languages (including our own nine official territorial languages). We come today from Beijing to Budapest, Coral Harbour, Nunavut, to Cape Town, South Africa, and Osaka to Oslo. Chances are, you'll meet someone from your Canadian home town or your home country, living and working here in Yellowknife.
Historically, the north shore of Great Slave Lake was home to the Dene - the Yellowknives and Tlicho. Their descendants continue to live in the Yellowknife region, some in the communities of Dettah and N'Dilo. 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 Tlicho. Some common words and phrases include: Mahsi cho ("Thank you very much") Sombak'e ("Yellowknife/Money place") Tide ("Great Slave Lake") Ekwo ("Caribou") He?e ("Yes") Ile ("No").
The Yellowknife Story
People claim that the streets are paved with gold in Yellowknife. It's 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 and Giant, 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, not gold.
The explorer Samuel Hearne trekked through this 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 heard of Sir John Franklin, who also 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 polished and glistening Precambrian rock.
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 still known today as New Town.
Yellowknife was named capital of the Northwest Territories in 1967, when the territorial government moved from Ottawa, Ontario. We became a City in 1970. The only city in the Northwest Territories to date, we are now the mining, communications and administrative center 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, with a hefty flow of those expenditures going to workers and businesses in this area.
Yellowknife is now the service centre for three diamond mines. Some residents even cut and polish diamonds. That's the reason the “City built on gold” now bills itself as North America's diamond capital.
For more information on the City of Yellowknife go to: www.yellowknife.ca.
Dettah and N'Dilo
The communities of Dettah and N'Dilo nearby are home to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Both communities are accessible by road. In winter, a wide ice road on Yellowknife Bay shortens the driving distance to Dettah, and in summer many families commute by boat. Some residents follow a traditional Dene lifestyle, fishing and hunting nearby, while others work in Yellowknife and at the diamond mines. Each community has a school while other services are provided from Yellowknife.