I have always had a soft spot for Yellowknife, and can unequivocally say that it is my favourite of the fourteen provincial, territorial and federal capitals. The Northwest Territories are lucky to have it!
For what it is worth, Edmonton is my least favourite, but nobody asked, and I don’t want to dwell on the Bad Times.
Yellowknife, quite simply, is fun; it takes itself so seriously that it borders on becoming a parody of itself, and in that enthusiasm embraces visitors and observers into the unique perspective of life that is offered by diamonds, government and tourism.
I first travelled there in the early 1980s. At that time Northwest Territorial Airways operated an elderly Lockheed Electra, a most comfortable 86-passenger propeller plane that offered a semi-circular lounge area in its tail, on a three-hour flight from Winnipeg to Yellowknife.
This time, I drove.
I was fortunate to ride on this line several times, and came to love the frontier town that the Territorial capital then was.
The price of gold was marked hourly by chalk in the smoky coffee shop of the Discovery Inn, this information seemingly critical to the minute-by-minute temperament of the locals.
Tourism, of course, was barely on the horizon in those days, but there were great folks around who wanted to see how they could join this burgeoning industry.
And they most certainly succeeded! Yellowknife now hosts as many as 75,000 visitors each year, a number that exceeds its population. Many (some 22,000) come for the Northern Lights, as Yellowknife is one of, if not the preeminent locations to witness this extraordinary display.
In particular, the Japanese visit in huge numbers, 10,000 at the last count, and this has spawned a fascinating parallel economy of fine sushi and other Japanese niceties to sooth these visitors’ yearnings for home.
But is it not all about lights, of course, given that the city bathes in sunlight for several months each year. It is, above all, I decided, all about aviation.
The city is alive with aircraft from the conventional jets that connect the city with the south to a vast miscellany of buzzy little creatures that whizz miners, tourists, campers and sightseers around the astonishing surroundings.
Lakes and trees, Canada’s staple landscape, dominate; however, the connectivity by air, the isolated cabins, the dramatic lodges and fertile hunting grounds bring the bush to the city and the city to the bush. It is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.
The Old Town is the cultural heartbeat of Yellowknife; the original houses, some restored professionally, some with only love and a smile and some untouched for decades, reflect the powerful sense of triumph and the future that the original prospectors imbued.
It is a place to get lost, and there is a superb audio-app that every visitor should obtain that quickly draws you back to the thirties and forties, and the real core of Yellowknife’s soul.
From the city, when one just has to get away, there are lodges and camps, but none finer then Blachford Lake, a long-term work-in-progress facility about forty minutes away by air. This lodge defies description; it is comfortable and has managed to incorporate the souls of every visitor and staff member rover the thirty-five years it has been in operation.
It offers accommodation and food, of course, but more importantly a milieu that can best be described as its own ecosystem.
I love Blachford. The facilities are by no means luxurious, but extend the security of a family with the celebration of friends in the most unlikely setting. There are educational courses and weddings, small think-tank meetings and romantic weekends, fishing escapes and aurora watching and dog sledding and ambiance; above all, the northern ambiance.
Visitors come for many reasons, but all leave with the same images woven together to form their own memories.
And if one has to point out that if it is good enough for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, given their choice of every lodge in Canada, well, I would agree that is is more than good enough for me.
We were there for dinner, and as our six-seat Beaver waited patiently, we certainly didn’t want to leave too fast. The atmosphere of the Lodge is unique; an over used word, perhaps, but this truly was. It is not a “Wilderness Lodge”, and does not fit neatly into any single classification, but this, of course, is the core of Blachford’s attractions.
It is simply a Lodge in the Wilderness offering its guests an extraordinary opportunity to feel free, comfortable and to completely relax, secure in the knowledge that the remarkable staff are ready to explain, show, identify and talk about anything and everything that happens and lives in these vast woods.
Back in the city, and seeking food, we were surprised at the variety that is available; certainly a result of both local demand and the thousands of hungry tourists that come by each year.
Terrific restaurants abound, and Bullock’s Bistro, the Dancing Moose and Sushi North deserve a special mention; there are brilliant museums and exhibitions; the town’s hiking trails, particularly Frame Lake are fabulous, and in the winter, and I am sure that I will get back again to report, a whole new world of opportunity opens up.
Yellowknife is an active place, and for those willing to get out and enjoy, the rewards are endless.