Sheltered by tall timber in the rolling foothills of the Mackenzie Mountains, Fort Liard is a blissful riverfront hamlet and the Northwest Territories' "garden spot," enjoying luxuriant vegetation, hot summers and one of the North's rarest pleasures – warm wintertime chinooks.
Located just off the Liard Trail, 37 kilometres north of the British Columbia border, it's the perfect place to gas up, buy exquisite Dene arts and crafts (birchbark baskets are the local specialty), or cast a fishing line from the banks of one of the two local rivers.
Fort Liard is home to approximately 600 friendly people – a mix of Dene, Métis, and non-Aboriginal residents, nestled in log cabins on the broad river terrace at the confluence of the Liard and Petitot waterways. The Liard, Kotaneelee, and La Biche Ranges of the Franklin Mountains rise just west of the community, forming a scenic alpine vista. The Yukon border is a mere 30 kilometres away.
In the local language, South Slavey, this place is Echaot'ıe Kųę – "Place of the people from the land of giants." The local Deh Gah Gotie Dene have lived in the area for as much as 10,000 years, hunting, fishing and trapping. While subsistence harvesting still remains vital, they now supplement their income with work for government and the regional oil-and-gas industry.
Modern settlement began in Fort Liard in 1807, when the Northwest Company founded a fur-trading post, "Riviere aux Liards" (River of Aspens). Father Zephirin Gascon, an oblate missionary from Quebec, then started the Fort Liard Mission in 1859. The present mission building was built beginning in 1913; tours are sometimes available. Other notable locals have included Charles Camsell, the founder of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.
Fort Liard is easy to get to. It's just two hours by road north of Fort Nelson, British Columbia, a major service centre along the Alaska Highway. The community is also the gateway to the Northwest Territories' Liard Trail, an all-season highway leading north through the stunning Liard River Valley (watch for moose, bears and bison!) to the community of Fort Simpson.