If the weather turns foul, head for the nearest museum, where the North’s rich culture and history come to life. There’s the Norman Wells Historical Centre in an old-time military Quonset hut, where you’ll learn of the scramble to build the Canol Pipeline through the untracked Mackenzie Mountains. Or the log-cabin museum in Colville Lake, housing the works of the village’s celebrated founder, the late priest, painter and bush pilot Bern Will Brown. Or the Northern Life Museum, the pride of Fort Smith. And when you’re done with those museums, we have many more. You'll wish the weather stayed foul all the time.
The granddaddy of Northern museums, Yellowknife’s voluminous Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre has it all – from biplanes to gold-mining memorabilia to Dene mooseskin boats. In addition to all the exhibits there’s an interactive play area for kids (complete with a miniature trappers cabin), a scrumptious café upstairs, and, often, live performances and presentations.
In the heart of Fort Smith, the must-see Northern Life Museum showcases the area’s First Nations, Métis and Euro-Canadian heritage. It boasts a collection of some 10,000 items, including local man Frank Conibear’s famous trap, which revolutionized fur-harvesting, and the stuffed body of Canus, a whooping crane sire whose, um, efforts brought his species back from the brink of extinction in nearby Wood Buffalo National Park.
The most quaint museum in the Northwest Territories, this hand-built log structure in the tiny fly-in community of Colville Lake features paintings by famed local priest, pilot, and town-founder Bern Will Brown, as well as the North’s first snowmobile.
The lovingly curated Norman Wells Historical Centre in Norman Wells showcases the multifaceted events that shaped this region. Colourful military vehicles from the building of the legendary Canol Road sit bumper-to-bumper in the yard, while inside you’ll find memorabilia from the oil-boom nearly a century ago, displays on Mackenzie river shipping and barging, and much more.
Perched on the shores of Yellowknife's Frame Lake, the igloo-shaped territorial assembly building is the North’s centre of power. Take a tour and you’ll get a peek at the stately assembly chamber; the ornate, diamond-tipped territorial mace; artworks by Group of Seven master A.Y. Jackson; plus exhibits capturing the dynamic political evolution of the Northwest Territories.
Located in a distinctive log-and-stone building on the main road of the K'atl'odeeche Reserve across from the town of Hay River, Yamozha Kue (a.k.a. the Dene Cultural Institute) lets you trade in your shoes for beaded moccasins and take a tour of Dene art and history. The gift shop sells crafts by local artists, plus great books.
From Hay River, take the short winter road across its namesake river to get to the K'atl'odeeche First Nation in winter, or cross the bridge on Highway 5 and drive in during the summer.