You already know about the polar bears, the gold mines, the Northern Lights, the endless evergreen forests. But the Northwest Territories remains full of surprises. Here are a few things you’ll see in the North that you never would have guessed.
The floating homes of Yellowknife Bay are the most-photographed real estate in the North. They’re also Earth’s highest-latitude houseboats. Here you’ll discover dozens of offbeat, candy-coloured dwellings – everything from buoyant shacks to sea-worthy multi-unit apartments, plus a B&B where the gentle waves will bob you off to sleep.
Our population is a mere 44,000, but we make up for it in linguistic diversity. Here, nine different Aboriginal languages, plus English and French, enjoy official status. You’ll get by just fine in English, but throw in the occasional “mahsi” or “quyanainni” and you’ll earn big grins from the locals.
Even in the dead of winter, we'll get you steamy. Thermal pools are common in the Mackenzie Mountains of the Northwest Territories. Best known is Kraus Hot Springs, a popular stop for paddlers right on the shore of the South Nahanni River. Others include Rabbitkettle Hot Springs, flanked by large calcium carbonate “tufa” mounds, and the Roche qui trempe a l’eau sulphur springs on the Mackenzie River near the Dene community of Wrigley.
Think bison died out with the Wild West? Think again. Herds of the horned beasts still roam the Northland, kicking up dust, blocking traffic, browsing in people’s gardens, and doing whatever else they darn well please. This is still their kingdom – one of the last places on Earth where you can watch them run wild.
Even here in the great white North, golfers love their greens. Several of our towns feature manicured courses, complete with lush fairways – even clubhouses. We also have golf courses that are, well, in the rough. So if you want to hit the links beneath the midnight sun, and you don’t mind if the occasional raven steals your ball, this is the wildest place you’ll ever tee off.
So declared Reader’s Digest, citing a beloved Yellowknife eatery as Canada’s batter-dipped paradise. Of course, with lakes everywhere you look, plenty of restaurants in the Northwest Territories serve up delectable fresh fish – Whitefish, Trout, Pike, Pickerel, Lingcod and more. Grab a beer, place an order and dig in.
When you think of the Arctic frontier, sailboats aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. But thanks to our wealth of water, sloops and schooners and catamarans are commonplace up here. Almost every summer evening, graceful vessels can be seen hitching a ride with the breeze of Great Slave Lake.
Only two have ever been spotted, both in the Northwest Territories. They’re called “pizzlies” – half polar bear, half grizzly. They’re one of the rarest creatures on Earth, and elusive to boot. Seeing one is unlikely. But who knows – if you keep your eyes peeled, you might be the person who spots pizzly number three.
In the Northwest Territories, all that glitters isn’t gold. These days, it’s our diamonds that gleam brightest. With three active mines unearthing more than a million dollars in diamonds each day, we’ve added a unique sparkle to the Canadian economy. The diamond-harvesting process is showcased at a new Yellowknife diamond centre – and if you really take a shine to our gemstones, you can buy a bit of “bling” for yourself.
What lies beneath? That’s the deep secret of Great Slave Lake, whose mysterious, watery oblivion is unrivalled in North America. If you sail offshore from the community of Łutselk’e, on the lake’s fabled East Arm, you’ll find yourself bobbing in water at least two-thirds of a kilometre deep – making this the deepest lake on the continent and the sixth deepest on Earth. How deep, exactly? Weirdly, we don’t know. For a long time, the official figure was 614 metres – enough to sink the CN tower. But recently, researchers discovered even deeper spots down there, plunging another 30 metres or more. Here’s what you can be sure of: This cold, wet abyss is heaven for supersized trout. Fifty-pounders are commonplace in Great Slave. And far-larger fish – perhaps of world-record size – are likely lurking in the depths, just waiting to be caught.
What do the White Nile, Zambezi and Slave have in common? They’re the three greatest whitewater kayaking rivers on Earth. But in the Slave, it’s not the crocodiles that’ll chew you up. Flowing past the town of Fort Smith, the Slave River Rapids attract pro paddlers from around the globe, who test their mettle in raging features like Rollercoaster, Maelstrom, Rockem Sockem and, yes, Molly’s Nipple.
Mark your calendar. Though the ribbon-cutting is two years away, motorists are revving their engines for the most exotic roadtrip in the world. The route? North America’s first highway to the Arctic Ocean, opening in 2018. Our “road to Tuktoyaktuk” will take you to the polar sea – a realm of beluga whales, white bears, and rich Arctic culture. Get ready to gas up and go.
They’re among the world’s rarest, biggest birds – and they summer right here in the Northwest Territories. Numbering fewer than 500 in the wild, the five-foot-tall whooping crane is a victim of habitat loss, but it has found a sanctuary in Wood Buffalo National Park. Here, the lanky fowl is slowly recovering from the brink of extinction. Keep your eyes peeled: In recent years, sightings have become more common.
Q: Why did the tourist cross the river? A: To take a ride on our awesome car ferries. Yep, that’s right. Ferries are one of the charms of the North, where few of the rivers are bridged. During summer, ferries cross the Mackenzie, Liard and Peel – providing highway travellers not just with free transport but a quick, easy way to see these mighty waterways. Winter crossings are equally novel: You can drive right over the ice.
Contrary to popular assumption, the Northwest Territories is a hot spot, with temperatures that skyrocket in the glare of the unsetting sun. The record here is a torrid 39.4°C – hotter than the all-time high in Hawaii. On sweltering summer days, Northerners and visitors head to the beach. Sandy waterfronts – perfect for sunbathing – can be found in numerous Northern towns.
Commercial fishing isn’t just a coastal thing – it nets big profits in the North. Each year, the Great Slave Lake fishing fleet supplies about a million pounds of whitefish and other species to markets as far away as Brooklyn and Moscow. In summer it’s done the normal way, with boats and nets. In winter, it’s tougher: Fishermen set nets beneath the four-foot-thick ice. You can take a tour to see how it’s done – and better yet, to sample a bit of their catch.
Northern architecture is about more than log cabins. Several of our towns bristle with highrise office and apartment towers. In Yellowknife, lofty penthouses provide stellar views of Great Slave Lake, while civil servants labour far above Franklin Avenue. The territory’s highpoint, however, is in Hay River, where the 17-storey Mackenzie Place tower rears up from the boreal plains.
Northerners have the lowest rate of high blood pressure in Canada. Just 12.3 percent of Northwest Territories citizens suffer from hypertension, compared to 18 percent of Canadians as a whole. How come? We believe it’s our low-stress, high-fun lifestyle. And we’re pretty sure that you, too, will find the North a great place to relax.