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Home Story Come for a Visit… Stay for a Lifetime

Come for a Visit… Stay for a Lifetime

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times.

Ask what brought someone to the Northwest Territories and you’re probably going to get a version of a very familiar story: I came for a week and here I am, 10 or 20 or 30 years later.

There is something about ‘The North’. Northerns get it, it gets under your skin, something magical, something that draws you in and keeps you coming back, or for some, keeps you forever… the easy pace of life up here, having the wild North literally at their doorsteps. Both those factors had something to do with the way the NWT captivated Olav Falsnes and Ted Grant, Margaret Peterson, and Ollie Williams—four ‘come-from-aways’ who now call the Northwest Territories home. But what made them really fall in love with the place? The humble, hardy, and lively people who live here. They collectively contribute to their community by providing opportunities to explore, share knowledge, and effectively communicate.

Keep reading for the fascinating backstory of how these four NWT residents landed in the North, and their dedication to showcasing the unmatched beauty of this place with the world.

Olav Falsnes

“I came North in 1966 to drop off a plane.”

His dream was to overwinter on his own in Eastern Greenland, drive an army jeep through Europe to the Middle East, or follow in David Livingstone’s footsteps on a journey through Africa. For Olav Falsnes, none of this ever materialized.

Instead, it was in Canada’s North that he found the adventure he’d been craving for so long. Growing up in Norway, he was passionate about flying, learning to pilot a glider towed behind a speeding Cadillac. Later, a flight instructor would tell Olav that two of his students had moved to Canada to become bush pilots. This stuck with Olav, who moved to Edmonton in his early 20s to get his Canadian pilot’s license.

In 1966, he was asked to drop an airplane off in Cambridge Bay. Alone at the controls of a Cessna 180, flying over Northern Alberta and then the Northwest Territories, he felt a rush of excitement: “It was new territory. It was unknown,” he says. “You had no idea about what you were going to run into.”

He stopped in Yellowknife, where the plane was put on floats for the rest of the trip. There was just one problem: Olav had never flown with floats before, he quickly got the hang of it…

“It consisted of one take-off and one landing,” he says. After a 20-minute flight, the captain turned to Olav and told him, ‘You can fly this as good as I can”.

Olav flew on to Port Radium, on Great Bear Lake, and then to Kugluktuk, known then as Coppermine.

“Back in the 60s, small airplanes didn’t have anything fancy to navigate by,” he explains. GPS was decades away, so Olav used maps and landmarks to guide him. In Kugluktuk , he was told to follow the coast to Cambridge Bay. “I got up to the Arctic Ocean and there was ice everywhere.” He made his fourth landing ever on floats and was soon recruited to fly a DC-4 for aviation legend Willy Laserich.

Thus began Olav’s life in the North. He spent the next few summers shuttling geologists and biologists around the Arctic. He reckons his training as an aeronautical engineer helped him get work. 

“I could fix my own plane. They would say, ‘Let’s send Olav up because we know he’ll come back.’” 

He hopped between Churchill, Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit for the next decade before settling in Inuvik in 1982. There, he and his wife Judi began to think about “a retirement project.”

In 1990, they purchased a place outside of town and fixed up cabins from Inuvik’s early days that had been left on the property. Since then, their hospitality business has grown into a full-service tourism company, Arctic Chalet Resort and Adventure Tours, which offers dog-mushing excursions, snowmobiling adventuresDempster Highway tours—and more.

“There’s nothing more exhilarating even today than driving the Dempster Highway,” says Olav. “I’ve driven it 100 times, and I still love it no matter what time of year.”

Olav and Judi can’t imagine living anywhere else. “We both love the North,” he says. “We both enjoy the people, the peace, the quiet and the solitude. The remoteness even, it doesn’t bother us.” Nor, obviously, does sharing his love for adventure with guests.

Ted Grant

“I came North in the 1970s with the RCMP.”

The farming community of Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, is a long way from Nahanni National Park Reserve, but that’s where a young Ted Grant first dreamed of joining the Mounties, of owning a plane and running a fishing lodge. He wanted the lodge, he says, because he hunted and trapped with his father. The plane? His neighbours owned a two-seater—”but they never let me get inside,” he says. So, he decided he needed one of his own. As for the RCMP, it was the sight of an older cousin decked out in the red serge that hooked him.

Ted joined the force on his 19th birthday and began training the next day. After being posted around Saskatchewan for nine years, he was sent North. He hasn’t left since.

Ted served in several communities, including Grise Fiord, the northernmost community in North America. That’s where he made his first foray into tourism, when he and the settlement manager hosted the “Grise Fiord Open Golf Tournament.” On a lark, they designed a nine-hole golf course, then welcomed a Twin Otter from (relatively nearby) Resolute loaded with 16 competitors.
But it was during his posting to Fort Simpson that he really caught the bug. In the summer of 1976, he took a flight with bush pilot Dick Turner. “We got to fly in and see the Nahanni,” Ted says, noting the area had just been designated a national park. He fell in love with it. Then and there, flying in the North became his goal.

Ted eventually quit the RCMP. Armed with his pilot’s license, he bought Simpson Air. The small company had been offering charters in the Mackenzie Valley since the 1960s, far longer than anyone else. 

A few years later, a trapper sold him some log cabins on Little Doctor Lake. They became Ted’s lodge – one more thing he could check off his list. “If you have a passion for something,” he says, “just take a step forward.”

Fast-forward to today and Ted is still licensed and flying with the same energy and wonder he first had seated next to Dick Turner. He sold Simpson Air in 2021, and passed along the torch to Garry Murtsell. But that doesn’t stop him from continuing to enjoy the Spectacular NWT from a birds-eye-view. Ted points out notable landmarks like Virginia Falls and the Cirque of the Unclimbables and can recollect the geology and history of peaks and rivers at the drop of a dime. He seems to want to pinch himself when talking about the beauty of the park and how pristine the water is, standing next to Little Doctor Lake.

“Feeling a little crowded in the city?” he asks. “Come and try this.”

Ollie Williams

“Somewhat ordinary routines that humans experience…become an extraordinary experience in the North.”

Unlike Ted, Ollie Williams is not shocked to have spent the last decade in the Northwest Territories. 

“In the last ten years, I have never once woken up in the morning thinking that I want to be anywhere else.” 

Ollie, a former British sports journalist with the BBC, first visited Canada en route to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics. Two years later, at the age of 27, he returned to Canada, driven by a desire to be closer to his partner. The destination – Fort Liard, NWT, was quite a departure from the busy London life he was used to.

He dedicated his year to volunteering as a soccer coach and doing literacy work with children. The year flew by. Ollie returned to England, but not for long. He was tired of the old buildings, fine pubs, and predictable sheep sprinkled along the roadsides. To be frank, “It was just so bloody boring in England.” 

Ollie longed for more. 

The more – clearly meant the Northwest Territories. In 2014, Ollie returned to Canada after marrying his Canadian partner, but this time as a permanent Canadian resident.

The couple settled in Yellowknife and never looked back. 

Ollie, being a curious and highly personable character, naturally makes a good fit for sharing information and local stories with the territory. He is part owner of Cabin Radio, an independent newsroom established in 2017. 

During his time working for the BBC as a young man, Ollie confesses he wouldn’t be able to name a local politician if asked. Council meetings and the affairs of the community were foreign to him, and, truthfully, he wasn’t very interested.

Now, as the editor of the newsroom in Yellowknife, he stands as one of the best-informed people in the city, arguably across the territory. This position provides him with a genuine connection to many different communities, perspectives, and cultures.

Through his business venture, Ollie has gained invaluable insight into the history and cultures of Indigenous peoples – knowledge that was not part of his academic background in England. He is committed to contributing positively to society, and essentially, “try not to make things worse like my predecessors have historically done.” Recognizing the news as the heart of the community, Ollie emphasizes the responsibility to represent diverse voices, a perspective he lacked in the UK.

When not working, you can find Ollie spending time outdoors. The Northern landscape is enjoyed all year round, it is the key to quality of life, and like nowhere he has visited before. Skating, skiing, snowmobiling, dogsledding all come to life with the arrival of snow. And after the ice breakup season, the outdoor options change with fantastic fishing opportunities, swimming, hiking, and more. Ollie doesn’t dismiss the bone-chilling weather, but once you succumb to dressing properly, he is certain you will not leave. 

“It is just such a marvellous and eternally interesting place to live. Somewhat ordinary routines that humans experience, like walking the dog, becomes an extraordinary experience in the North.” 

Just beyond the outskirts of Yellowknife, Ollie and his dog Kona briskly walk from their home to Great Slave Lake on daily outings. Yes, it is a frigid minus 37 and “cold enough to scare any Brit to death” or at least consider living somewhere else, but Ollie is convinced that the NWT’s breathtaking beauty can dispel any doubts. 

“There is Kona running around, having a whale of a time!” He laughs, despite the bone-chilling climate. 

Ollie feels his life is all the richest knowing what he knows now, and he owes it all to the Northwest Territories. “I love this place with every fibre of my being, and it is the right place for me to be.” He looks forward to welcoming you to the Northwest Territories!

Margaret Perterson

I came North in 1979 for a two-year job posting.”

The Petersons were used to packing and unpacking boxes.

Margaret met her husband Jim, a medic with the Canadian Armed Forces, in Victoria, B.C. in the mid-70s. Soon, they moved to Ottawa after Jim was posted there. But something was missing. When a posting came up in Yellowknife, “we jumped for it,” says Margaret, owner of Peterson’s Point Lake Lodge.

The Petersons immediately took to the outdoors with so many fishing and camping spots so close to the city, and they renewed their posting in Yellowknife after two years. But when they were posted back to Victoria, they didn’t go. 

“We just loved it here,” Margaret says. “Isn’t that funny? Many people want to retire in Victoria.”

The Petersons haven’t had to pack their boxes since, as Yellowknife has been home for the past 40 years.

After settling in the city, Jim began to seriously think about making his life dream of starting a lodge a reality. That search began inauspiciously. The family—by then Margaret, Jim and their two children, Amanda and Chad—decided to take a trip to Point Lake. They flew out to the lake—located above the tree line roughly 300 km north of Yellowknife—on a hot, sunny Canada Day long weekend in the capital city. It wasn’t quite so at Point Lake. It snowed. 

“We went into survival mode for a couple of days,” Margaret says. Eventually, they came across a narrow strip of beach on a sheltered section of the lake.  “We said this was going to be it and that’s where we are.”

What started as a tent camp focused on providing hunting and fishing adventures is today a premium Arctic lodge that still offers world-class fishing, but also magnificent Aurora viewing and popular autumn Arctic photography workshops. This second-generation family business all evolved from that job posting in 1979.

“We have a saying—you come up as guests and you leave as friends and family,” Margaret says. That’s only true if you actually leave.

Visit the Northwest Territories and experience the charm of Olav’s retirement ‘project’ at Arctic Chalet Resort and Adventure Tours. Take flight alongside Ted for a breathtaking birds-eye-view of the Arctic’s magnificent topography. Or maybe you yearn to embrace tranquility by staying at Margaret’s fishing lodge. 

And unsure of your next move? Ollie Williams’ comforting voice on Cabin Radio will bring you the latest updates on local events and news from the area. Whether you stick to your original travel plans or unexpectedly put down roots in the Northwest Territories, something here will change you.

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