There’s a stately new landmark towering over an ancient Northern gathering place – and in April of 2017, it made its television debut.
The 55-foot-high structure was built last autumn by the stars of the hit reality-TV show Timber Kings. An episode featuring the construction aired April 16, 2017 on the HGTV network.
The famous lumberjacks built the five-storey-tall teepee from a dozen massive yellow-cedar logs, one of which is estimated to be 750 years old.
At the top of the teepee, the logs spiral in the direction of the setting sun.
The project was the vision of local Dene elders. It was commissioned by Fort Simpson’s Lidlii Kue First Nation, with additional funding from the government of the Northwest Territories.
It was timed to mark two anniversaries taking place this year – Canada’s sesquicentennial, and the 30th anniversary of the visit to Fort Simpson of Pope John Paul II.
The pope held mass at the Edhaa site in 1987 before a flock of thousands of mostly-First Nations worshippers. It was the first time in history a pope had met with Aboriginal people.
It almost didn’t happen: A previous visit in 1984 had been cancelled when the pontiff’s plane couldn’t land due to fog.
For that visit, a smaller wooden teepee had been built at the site. It stood for more than three decades before being deemed unsound last year and torn down.
The new teepee that went up in its place was an engineering marvel. It took the Timber Kings – the owners and employees of the company Pioneer Log Homes – five days to erect the structure. To do it, they had to import special equipment not available in Fort Simpson.
The B.C.-based company is Canada’s preeminent custom-log-home builder, and stars in The show, in its fourth season, airs on Home & Garden Television and is viewed in more than 100 countries.
Construction of the teepee was captured by HGTV film crews, who edited down dozens of hours of footage for the upcoming show.
Also filmed were community events held in conjunction with the work, including a fire-feeding ceremony and drum dance, at which a Dene elder sang a special song to honour the spirit of the 750-year-old tree.
Local people also treated the builders to Northern delicacies, providing them with a feast of moose meat, cranberries, tea and bannock.
Though the teepee is now the most prominent feature of the Edhaa National Historic Site, the spot has been a significant for centuries.
Located on the flats near the junction of the Mackenzie and Liard rivers, it is a timeless gathering place for Dene and Metis people, who would stop and congregate here to trade, arrange marriages, settle disputes, and undertake ceremonies of healing and thanksgiving.
For modern visitors the site is a key Fort Simpson attraction, home not only to the new teepee but events such as the Open Sky Festival, great views of the Mackenzie River, easy access to the nearby Fort Simpson Territorial Park, and proximity to Fort Simpson’s visitor centre and downtown.