From Then to Now
Before 12,000 B.C., most of the Northwest Territories was locked in a great sheet of ice, a mile or more deep. When the glaciers receded, they did so from west to east, opening the landscape to human settlement.
First here were the Dene, who've roamed the boreal forest for millennia. About 1,000 years ago they were joined by the Inuvialuit in the Mackenzie Delta and on the Arctic coast and islands. Fewer than 300 years ago, the Métis arrived – the vanguard of the fur trade. Settlement by Euro-Canadians stretches back barely a century – first Hudson Bay employees and missionaries, then whalers and RCMP, then oil-drillers, miners, and the government.
Many of the NWT's communities, like Fort Resolution and Fort Simpson, originated centuries ago as trading posts. Some, such as Fort Smith, Hay River and Enterprise, got their start as transportation hubs. Norman Wells and Yellowknife were founded in resource extraction – oil and gold, respectively. Inuvik was a planned community, where Indigenous people were settled, ostensibly to provide them with modern services. Other communities, like Colville Lake and Wekweètì, began with the opposite impulse, as First Nations people sought a return to traditional life.