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Whatever your spiritual persuasion, you'll love the ornate little churches of the Northwest Territories. Every community has at least one – Anglican, Catholic, or otherwise. Often, they're the most historic structures in town, some dating back to the mid-1800s, before Canada even became a country. Often, too, they are architectural marvels: There's the famous domed "Igloo Church" in Inuvik, the log-cabin Our Lady of the Snows Church in Colville Lake, and the stately cathedral in Fort Smith. In many cases, local artists have decorated them with beautiful Indigenous designs. You'll usually find them open to the public – so doff your cap and check them out.
Technically, it's Our Lady of Victory Catholic Parish – but everyone in the North calls it the Igloo Church. Located on Inuvik's main drag just south of downtown, this landmark is a bleach-white cylinder capped by a silvery dome, imitating the Inuvialuit snow-houses of old. It opened its pews to worshippers in 1960. The interior is decorated with the paintings of famous Inuvialuit artist Mona Thrasher. We're willing to bet it's the most photographed building in the Northwest Territories.
The Church of St. Theresa of Avila hosts worshippers not far from the banks of the Mackenzie River in Tulita. It's not the only noteworthy place of worship in this central Sahtu community. The Old Anglican Church – a single-story log building with a gable roof and wooden steeple – is a territorially designated historic site dating from 1880.
Our Lady of Good Hope Church is the oldest and certainly the most ornate place of worship in the North. This tiny cathedral crowns a bluff overlooking the Mackenzie River in Fort Good Hope. Built starting in 1865 by Oblate missionaries – including the famed Father Émile Petitot – the church from the outside is whitewashed, steep-roofed, plain and stately. The inside, however, glows with elaborate frescoes: The vaulted ceiling depicts a Northern winter’s night sky while Christian imagery is intermixed with depictions of local plants and wildlife. Today, though a National Historic Site, it still hosts regular services.
Perched on the appropriately named Church Hill, the Church of the Holy Name of Mary occupies pride of place overlooking the confluence of the Mackenzie and Arctic Red Rivers in Tsiigehtchic. The older, larger church in the background dates from the 1920s and nowadays is seldom used.
Hand-built in 1962 by Colville Lake's founder, the late Oblate priest, artist and bush-pilot Bern Will Brown, Our Lady of the Snows Catholic mission drew K’ahsho Got’ine hunters and trappers back to the area from Fort Good Hope. At first, the church doubled as a doctor's and dentist's office, with Brown serving in both professions. Drum dances, treaty discussions and all manner of other community events have been held here as well.
Though not a church, this is the spiritual heart of Délįne. It's the lakefront log cabin of the community's revered visionary, the late Ehtseo (Grandfather) Louie Ayah. Often called "the Prophet," Ayah was said to have forseen the discovery of diamonds in the Northwest Territories, the utilization of uranium from Great Bear Lake in World War II's infamous Manhattan Project, and the political rejuvenation of the Sahtudene with the advent of self-government – not to mention the end of the world.
St. David's Church in Fort Simpson was built from a kit that was brought to the community by sternwheeler during the Great Depression. Its first service was Christmas Day, 1930, making it more than 85 years old. Its pews and pulpit, however, are far older – they were salvaged from a preceding church, built in 1862.
St. Joseph's Cathedral towers over downtown Fort Smith, its grandeur harkening back to the days when this community was the religious and administrative centre of the Northwest Territories. A somewhat eerie fact: Interred in a crypt in the church's basement are four bishops, including Bishop Joseph Trocellier, the bishop at the time the cathedral was built.
Perched at the crest of Fort McPherson's sandy hill, St. Matthew's Anglican Church is unmissable, its silver spire glinting in the midnight sun. The present church is approximately a half-century old, having replaced the original log St. Matthew's Church, which opened in the community in 1860. Plaques inside commemorate the Whittaker family of missionaries; outside, in the churchyard, you'll find the graves of the tragic 'Lost Patrol' – four Mounties who died while on a sled-dog journey to Dawson City during the bitterly cold winter of 1910-11.