Fort Providence is an idyllic, easy-to-reach getaway in the South Slave region. There’s always plenty to do in this blissful little community on the banks of the big Mackenzie River– from checking out the roaming herds of bison, to exploring the rich Indigenous heritage, and all within an easy drive of Yellowknife or Hay River.
This community of 770 is perched on the scenic north bank of the Mackenzie, Canada’s mightiest river, not far from its source at Great Slave Lake. Here, the mile-wide waters dominate the view. You could spend hours watching the river current slide continuously toward the sea. Along the Fort Providence waterfront, the fishing is stupendous – the waters swarm with Grayling, Trout, Pickerel, Pike and more. The waterfront trails are gorgeous and this is a perfect put-in for downriver paddling expeditions.
The surrounding forests and waters are home to lots of wildlife, but one species stands out – the majestic wood bison, the largest land creature in North America. Thousands dwell in the nearby Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary, and often they can be seen right in town, wandering the streets and grazing in yards.
History is vivid in Fort Providence. In the local Dene language, this community is called Zhahti Kųę (“the mission house”) after the mission, boarding school and orphanage that were founded here in the 1860s by Roman Catholic Oblates. A few years after the Catholic Oblates arrived, the Hudson’s Bay Company opened a trading post and bestowed it with the name “Fort Providence.” To this day, the stately old white-and-blue church from those early days is one of the most photographed historic buildings in the Northwest Territories.
The local Dene community in ‘Fort Prov’ represented by the Deh Gáh Got’ı̨ę First Nation, and Métis residents are represented by the Fort Providence Métis Council. Both groups belong to the Dehcho First Nations.
Fort Providence can be easily accessed by highway from Hay River, Yellowknife or Fort Simpson. The landmark Mackenzie River Bridge, which opened in 2012 to provide year-round access to communities north of the river, is the only bridge across the Mackenze and the longest bridge in northern Canada. Suspended more than 30 metres above the water, it provides picturesque views of the “Big River” and the surrounding boreal woodlands.