In Tlicho, a local Aboriginal language, Yellowknife is called Somba K’e. Where the money is. From the city’s very beginning in the 1930s, this has always been true.
First, it was for the gold: there are 18 former gold mining sites located within Yellowknife’s city limits. It’s still the hub of the mining industry, although these days most of the digging, for now anyway, is for diamonds. One in seven of the Northwest Territories’ GDP dollars comes from diamond mining, and virtually all of it passes through the capital.
The civil servants came later. They were here from the beginning of course, although the original locus of federal presence was Fort Smith. But things picked up with Yellowknife’s selection as the NWT capital in 1967, when the territory was granted its first version of something resembling home rule with greater political autonomy closely monitored and reined in by the federal government. The money now came from above ground, too.
Last April, Ottawa concluded a devolution agreement with the NWT that increased the territorial government’s powers to near province-like. This largely completed a process that began in the late 70s, when the feds ran nearly every facet of Northern government. Over the years, roads, power, forest-fire fighting (you may have heard we do a lot of that around here) were all moved from the federal to territorial government. Now the money still comes from Ottawa, mostly, but it lives here in the form of jobs transferred north.
Who lives here?
So there are three main poles in Yellowknife: Dene, miner, bureaucrat. On top of that you add the usual mix of misfits, artists and weirdos who always gravitate to places on the frontier. You don’t have to pick one, there’s a fair amount of overlap and you’re likely to make fast friends no matter what your scene is. There’s a fair amount of turnover, too, and longtime Yellowknifers have seen plenty of people come and go. So if you meet someone who seems a little aloof, give them a few years to warm up to you.
So why do we live here? Check out the City of Yellowknife and aRTLeSS Collective’s video below for part of the answer. And aside from the fact that whatever you’re doing, you’re likely to make significantly more here than you would elsewhere in Canada, it’s the weather. Despite what you might expect, it’s actually fantastic, most of the time. Yes, -40 C is common in the winter, and yes, that is prime Aurora time, but do you want to see them or not? But come spring, which starts at about -15, things start to get glorious, with occasional bouts of terrible. By the time Long John Jamboree rolls around in late March, it’s warm enough to hang out outside. Seriously. (Dress warmly though.)
The real highlight, though, is summertime. Typically, 25 C and sunny for weeks on end can be expected, although this can cause forest fires. This summer it was a lot of forest fires, the kind that brought smoke rolling thickly into town. Other years it’s not quite so bad, and most of the time, Yellowknife is a summer paradise with sun-drenched social events blossoming at a moment’s notice. Swimming is possible and highly recommended. Paddlers love it here. Come late July, when the one-two festival punch of Folk On The Rocks and NWT Pride rolls around, the bugs are subsiding, and the beer garden is a good place to be. Sure, the midnight sun makes it hard to sleep, but why would you want to?