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Looking up at the Northern Lights awakens something in your spirit. They are a Niagara Falls of colour; rivers of light flowing across a dark sky as deep as the Grand Canyon. Standing under their glow makes you feel connected to something vast and beautiful.
Is it any wonder there’s always shouting and excitement when the lights first appear overhead?
“The volume and atmosphere changes,” says Bruce Davidson, park manager of Prelude Lake Territorial Park on the Ingraham Trail. “It’s like Christmas, when people see it for the first time.”
Ask any Aurora tourism operator in the NWT and you’ll hear about that Christmas-like joy. It’s just as magnetizing as the Aurora themselves.
“You feel it with the visitors,” Davidson says “When the Aurora are really flowing, it is exciting and infectious.”
Joe Bailey, founder of North Star Adventures, has looked up at those lights all his life growing up on these lands. But each time he’s mezmerized anew. “It’s like fresh air, a blue sky and sunshine.”
Sharing the magic of the Aurora with travellers from all over the world is one of the most rewarding parts of Bailey’s job. Some of those visitors aren’t unfamiliar with cosmic scenery — like the time Star Wars’ Carrie Fisher joined him on a tour — but all of them are starstruck by our captivating Northern Lights.
And what better place is there to experience the Aurora than right here in the NWT? Yellowknife sits in the middle of the Auroral Oval, and much of the Northwest Territories is under some part of the oval, where visitors have the highest chance of catching a lightshow at this latitude.
“It’s all I want to do at this point,” says Tracy Therrien, who through her Bucket List Tour Company escorts visitors to a small cabin nestled within the boreal forest near Yellowknife. As guests dine on locally-caught fish chowder and fresh bannock, they can step outside into the inky black night and gaze up at the lights shimmering overheard.
“I never tire of seeing the excitement of people seeing it for the first time,” says Therrien. “It really is magical and it is special, I promise.”
At Aurora Village, just off the Ingraham Trail, visitors can dine in traditional teepees and watch the Aurora from hilltop lookouts above a pristine, often-frozen lake. Like North Star, Aurora Village is Indigenous-owned and often incorporates traditional stories and culture into each adventure.
Take, for instance, the legend of how the Aurora contains the spirits of ancestors who’ve passed away, now dancing in the sky. Aurora Village co-founder Don Morin grew up hearing that story, and once told it to a visiting doctor from Hong Kong as they both stood outside, gazing up at the lights.
The doctor started crying. She’d lost her husband five years earlier and there, under the rainbow waterfall of the Aurora, she finally let him go.
“Those are the things that make this business worthwhile,” says Morin. “We share our culture with them. It helps other people heal, too.”
Mike Morin, also of Aurora Village, agrees. Sharing the Aurora with others helps visitors to the NWT appreciate our heritage. They take those experiences and culture back home and share it with their own friends and family.
“And in doing so, they increase the knowledge and understanding of this land and our people.”
That’s what makes sharing the Aurora so special for Northerners. We feel the excitement of people seeing the Aurora for the first time. And we’re sharing a part of ourselves, too. Connecting with people from all over the world, like rivers of colour flowing across the night sky.