The first NWT community you’ll encounter driving on the Dempster Highway, Fort McPherson has a rich and storied history. This Gwich’in hamlet of about 800 served as the principal Hudson’s Bay Company trading post in the Mackenzie Delta for over 50 years.
Its traditional name, Teet’lit Zheh, translates to “Place at the head of the waters,” evoking the community’s location on a bluff above the east bank of the Peel River and facing the breathtaking Richardson Mountains. Explorer John Bell opened a trading post nearby in 1849, but after numerous floods that settlement was moved about six kilometres inland to what became the current site of Fort McPherson.
Here you’ll also find the final resting place of the RCMP’s fabled “Lost Patrol.” In 1911, a four-man team set off from Fort McPherson on their way to Dawson City by dogsled. They never arrived. Corporal Jack Dempster, the namesake of the Dempster Highway, led the search for the missing men. Their bodies were eventually recovered and buried here in Fort McPherson. The grave site was turned into a memorial that’s still visited by many travellers.
Today, Fort McPherson is a vibrant community full of enterprising residents who remain closely tied to the area’s historic roots. Travellers should make sure to visit the renowned Fort McPherson Tent and Canvas Shop, which sells durable custom canvas tent walls and other practical items for adventurers. Also stop by the Chii Tsal Dik Gwizheh Tourism and Heritage Centre, which hosts a range of cultural activities, from live fiddle music and dance demonstrations, to storytelling, sewing classes, and more.
Drivers can access Fort McPherson year-round on the Dempster Highway, with the exception of spring break-up and fall freeze-up. There is also a small airport with seasonal flights to Inuvik when the Peel River is closed.