An extended trip for a photographer and a former model from Mexico turned into a romantic proposal on Yellowknife Bay while the Northern Lights streamed overhead. The moment was captured and the couple will forever share their special evening with that quintessential northern backdrop.
“One night they quietly went outside and took all these shots with the remote camera. They knew how to get the Aurora in the background and focus the foreground – which isn’t easy – and then the next day they told us they got engaged out there,” says Daniel Gillis, owner of a houseboat on Yellowknife Bay.
The young couple wasn’t the first to take advantage of the Northern Lights and idyllic locale for a picture-perfect proposal. Gillis says his B&B has been the site of a number of engagements, anniversaries and romantic getaways. Even Yellowknifers will book a night or two on the houseboat to try out a new view on a special occasion.
“A lot of people are curious about what it’s like on a houseboat and want to experience it. More in the summertime because of the open water, it’s very unique, and there’s the rocking motion out in the middle of the lake,” says Gillis. “You’re kind of on your own little island.”
Realizing the potential for romantic moments in the North, tourism operators are sure to give couples a chance to get away from the crowds and the cameras snapping pictures of the Aurora.
At Blachford Lake Lodge, sales and marketing manager Katherine Johnson says romantic getaways make up about one-quarter of their business. For weddings and anniversaries, the remote setting of the lodge about a half-hour from Yellowknife by bush plane, offers calm and quiet – not to mention an outdoor hot tub.
“It’s peaceful, it’s beautiful, there’s nothing in the way of just relaxing. You really get down to you and nature and the connection between couples,” says Johnson. And the Northern Lights are of course a crucial element. “What’s better than cuddling up with the person you love and watching them dance over you?”
Blachford’s serene setting even encouraged one groom-to-be to pop the question on site, despite not having the necessary supplies – a ring, that is. Amy Isaikina, lodge manager, says staff were given a heads up on the plan and told to help out in any way they could.
“I pulled him aside when he had a minute alone and asked, ‘What can we do?’” says Isaikina. The groom told Isaikina that one of them had been in a car accident a few months before, and in order to keep working to fund the trip here they had to purchase a replacement car, forgoing a ring. Isaikina asked him, “What if we can get a ring?” He said he would ask her to marry him.
Luckily, one of the lodge volunteers, Scott Cavanaugh, was a carpenter. Tasked with the challenge, six hours later he produced a hand-carved ring out of caribou antler, complete with a carved “diamond” on top.
The man was ecstatic, says Isaikina, and later that night, under the Aurora at a candlelit teepee, he proposed. “We did contact them later that summer and they did get married and are living happily ever after,” she says. “It’s one of the amazing miracles that happens out here.”
While the Aurora remains one of the biggest drivers for visitation to the Northwest Territories, the assistant manager of the Northern Frontiers Visitor’s Centre, says in general, the wild natural experiences available in the North tantalize those seeking romantic getaways.
“I would say, we find an overriding theme is wild natural experiences,” says Dempsey. “I find, especially for some of our Asian visitors in Yellowknife, it is quite a bucket-list destination for honeymooners, people recently engaged, people looking to have a kind of adventurous experience as a couple.”
And it’s no surprise to him, with many visitors coming from major cities with high population densities, manufactured environments and minimal natural space.
“Having that open space and ability to enjoy nature privately is something many of our visitors are very happy to experience,” he says.
“The fact that you can go to Cameron Falls and be the only one there is unheard of compared to going to the Great Wall and having 50,000 other people there.”
The spiritual presence associated with the Northern Lights and the ruggedness of the North are experiences couples come hoping to share together, and then with their friends back home. One couple from Taiwan, he recalls, came up in September, just a few weeks after they were married, to mark the occasion.
“They basically replicated a lot of their original engagement photos and wedding photos with an Aurora theme,” says Dempsey. The husband had a tux, the wife wore a wedding dress, and they even re-enacted their proposal with him down on one knee.
But the Northern Lights aren’t the only draw to the Northwest Territories, Dempsey says. “Just the remoteness and distance of it as well, I think a lot of couples view it as an achievement. It’s the equivalent of going on a safari together: a big adventurous trip that’s a bonding experience,” he says.
“Many go back proud that they’ve travelled so far and been able to have an experience so outside of the realm of what their friends or coworkers experience. In general, there is romanticism toward Arctic exploration, because it’s kind of the last frontier.”
To get the full story on the romance of the Aurora, explore Northern Lights tours, day-trips and lodges in the Northwest Territories.