Exploring Yellowknife

Heritage and Culture Things To Do In Yellowknife

Yellowknife Old Town

Yellowknife offers you many opportunities to experience the north’s cultural heritage. You can learn about the ancient aboriginal history of the north shore of Great Slave Lake, the fur-trading empire that stretched along the waterways of the 19th century, and the settlers that came to Yellowknife Bay in the mid-1930s in search of precious metals. Then you can experience northern heritage in today’s landscape, where old traditions mix with the modern way of life, a Yellowknife where diamonds are now mined from the Canadian Shield, while old methods of transportation – ice roads and vintage airplanes – still provide steady service to our communities.

Northern Frontier Visitors Centre

Yellowknife’s regional visitors centre should be your first stop when you arrive. It is easily accessible just off the main highway leading into town and the staff can offer you a wide range of information on the surrounding landscape. Exhibits on Yellowknife history, mining and geology, natural history, and aboriginal culture is presented in constantly evolving displays. A small gift shop offers a selection of northern souvenirs. The staff can help you plan your visit to Yellowknife by providing contact information for services and brochures on what there is to see and do.

Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre

The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is the NWT museum and archives. The museum acquires and manages objects and archival materials that represent the cultures and history of the Northwest Territories, plays a primary role in documenting and providing information about the cultures and history of the NWT, and provides professional museum, archives and cultural resource management services to partner organizations. The museum holds in trust for the public a large collection of objects that represent the peoples and cultures of the NWT, and produces exhibitions that tell stories about the land, people and history. Visit their website for more information on exhibits.

Northern Arts and Cultural Centre

The Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) is a 313 seat theatre facility located in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. It was built with the help of the publisher of the Globe and Mail newspaper whose fundraising efforts raised monies from varied sources across Canada. It is the only fully equipped live performance theatre in the NWT. NACC is a venue and supporting agency for northern, national and international artists. We operate a variety of programs in communities throughout the NWT on an ongoing basis. From educational workshops to performing artist mentorships, the NACC is a vital part of the community of the Northwest Territories. Visit the NACC website for information on upcoming performances.

NWT Diamond Centre

The NWT Diamond Centre shares stories of the Diavik and Snap Lake Diamond Mines. It is also place for visitors to watch a rough diamond get polished and even try it themselves.

NWT diamonds are also on display and for purchase at this centre. You can find more information here.

Mining Heritage Displays

The NWT Mining Heritage Society has begun development of a mining interpretive centre at the old Giant Mine townsite. Outdoor exhibits of old mining machinery, vehicles, and some buildings are on display for public viewing near the Public Boat Launch at Giant Mine. Visit their website for more information about the proposed mining museum.

Legislative Assembly

The seat of government for the Northwest Territories is located in the capital city of Yellowknife. The Legislative Assembly building is one of the newest legislatures in Canada and one of the most unique, highlighting our consensus style of government and also the traditional values of the people of the territory. The Legislative Assembly is where Members from across the Northwest Territories come together and make decisions on behalf of all Northerners. Tours are available of the facility, where visitors can learn about the unique system of consensus government that sets the Northwest Territories apart. Check here for information on tours.
Tour Information

Bristol Monument

This old airplane introduces the visitor to Yellowknife along Highway #3, near the Airport. It is a Bristol freighter, once operated by Wardair Limited, an early air operator in the community. This very plane was the first the land on skis at the North Pole in 1967. The historic craft was donated to the City of Yellowknife in 1970 and is on display for all to see and appreciate the north’s aviation heritage.

Ice Roads

The north has very few all-season roads because construction is expensive and often an engineering feat in the sub-arctic. Luckily, intrepid transportation engineers have devised a way to keep our communities and mining projects open to traffic nearly year-round, through the construction of ice roads. Several ice roads, including an access road across Yellowknife Bay to the aboriginal community of Dettah, and the famous ice road to the diamond mines, are open for public use in the winter months of January to March each year. It is suggested that travelers keep up-to-date on road conditions by visiting the GNWT Department of Transportation website.

Old Town

Yellowknife’s Old Town is a must-see for all visitors. It’s a rocky point of land, part of the City’s Great Slave Lake waterfront, with a colourful past. It was an ideal location to begin a community in the 1930s. The waterfront was once the commercial hub of the region, where float planes and barges would pull up to their moorage, and several pioneer business got their start to service the miners and trappers. Old Town is now an upscale residential and commercial area with many gift shops, restaurants, cafes, and accommodations.

Walk the historic streets of Old Town with a heritage guidebook available for free from the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre. Buildings from the 1930s rub shoulders with unique homes designed by local architects. Bush planes still tie up to the docks and land on the historic waterdomes of Back Bay. In summer, eat at the Wildcat Café, the city’s oldest restaurant, dating back to 1937. Year-round, try the fish and chips cooked to order at Bullock’s Bistro. Shop for your clothing needs at Weaver & Devore Trading, Yellowknife’s oldest trading post in business since 1936.

Don’t miss the panoramic view from the Bush Pilots Monument. In summer, Great Slave Lake stretches to the horizon, in fall and winter, the aurora dances overhead. The monument commemorates the men and women who flew the tiny bush planes which opened the North. Hike up the stairs, the view of water, rock and the city is truly breathtaking.

New Town

The downtown core of Yellowknife was established in 1945 to accommodate the growth of the community which had outgrown its roots along the waterfront. It is now the commercial core of the city and offers all of your shopping and accommodation needs. A heritage guidebook available for free at the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre can help show you some of the local history of the area, where old suburban houses from the 1940s mix with government office towers.

Ragged Ass Road

Ragged Ass Road in Old Town’s Willow Flats area is a must see for visitors. ‘Ragged Ass’ is a colloquial term for “dirt poor”. The story involves three local fellows, a late night and just the right amount of liquor. The boys decided to rename their street Ragged Ass Road. They painted a sign and put it up, in a part of Yellowknife called Old Town. The name stuck, and soon after, Ragged Ass Road was adopted as an official street name. Singer Tom Cochrane named a music album after Ragged Ass Road. Pick up your very own full sized (or pint-sized) official Ragged Ass Road sign at one of the numerous gift shops in downtown Yellowknife.

Art Walk

Yellowknife hosts a vibrant art community. There are dozens of galleries and artists in residence, plus a number of public displays of art, murals, and sculptures around the town. Please visit the Northern Frontier Visitor’s Centre for an ‘Artswalk’ brochure.

Some information provided by the Northern Frontier Visitor Centre.

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About the author

Kyle Thomas

Kyle grew up in Yellowknife and is a local entrepreneur, bread maker, and Yellowknife-ophile who is addicted to learning as much as he can about the community and sharing it with anyone who'll listen. In 2009 he developed YkOnline.ca. A website all about living, working and thriving in Yellowknife for residents, newcomers, and visitors.

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