These top 10 reasons for loving Yellowknife come to us from Garrett Hinchey and I couldn’t be more ecstatic about them. Also being a long time Yellowknifer and sharing the passion of this community, I was shaking my head and laughing in agreement as I read his article. Check out Garrett’s blog here and follow him on twitter @garretthinchey
When I’m at school down south (and, quite frankly, when I’m home as well), a lot of people ask me what exactly it is I find so appealing about Yellowknife. Isolated, cold, and small, it’s not exactly everyone’s definition of an ideal living situation. I always have a tough time answering them, mainly because its something that’s difficult to put into words that make me love my hometown. It’s a whole lot of “je ne sais quois,” mixed in with a healthy dose of the pioneer spirit, some of the most beautiful visuals you’ll ever see, and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
I first wrote this column 3 years ago on my own personal blog, and the intention was to try and put down some of the reasons I love Yellowknife on paper. That way, when people ask me, I can just direct them here (or there)! So, without further adieu, here is a list of 10 things I love about Yellowknife (in no particular order):
10: Range Street
To people who have never seen it, its hard to explain the inherent goofiness of Range Street, AKA 50th Street on the CIBC side of Franklin Ave. You can’t put your finger on what makes it seem sketchy even in the daytime (maybe it’s just the reputation), even though it is definitely not, and I’m sure countless variations of the joke “stay together, don’t stop moving” have been uttered by naïve tourists or immature high school students over the years as people make their way to the mall or Subway, or the Gold Range Bistro.
At night, though, the reputation for the street manifests itself in absolutely insane (and hilarious) ways. With The Raven on one side and The Gold Range on the other, a plethora of inebriated Yellowknifers make their way down to enjoy some overpriced drinks and a either slice of northern nostalgia (the legendary Gold Range) or a desperate attempt to cling to the southern clubs they hold so dear (I love you, Raven, but a dance club you are not). At bar close, patrons from both establishments spill onto the streets, and in a mesh of drunkenness, not only does the Corner Mart in between the two bars become a hub of inebriated madness, as people scramble for cabs, run for spring rolls, or, occasionally, get in a good old-fashioned scrap. Range Street is just a totally unique street from top to bottom, and even though YK’s “signature street” doesn’t define the community in any way, it’s certainly one-of-a-kind. Enjoy it while you can, as rezoning plans from the City mean that this odd slice of northern culture won’t be around much longer.
Editor’s note: Corner Mart is now in fact closed and shut down. Bruno’s Pizza has ramped up service offering those late night patrons greasy eats upon bar close.
9: The local cuisine
And no, I’m not talking about the Wildcat Cafe or L’Heritage (although they’re both phenomenal), or even cooking bannock over a fire. I’m talking about the Vietnamese Noodle House, where everyone in town knows their favourite dish by number (76, please) and the food flies out of the kitchen at inhuman speeds. Where the drinks come with an absolutely massive chunk of ice in the glass but the water still manages to be lukewarm (and sometimes you find a little speck of “something red” on the glass, but you drink it anyway). Where they sell alcohol, but nobody orders it. Where you can always trick a newbie by telling him the house hot sauce is ketchup, or by performing the classic “smell this” and poofing a pepper-filled noseful their way. And, on top of it, where the food is absolutely fantastic, and always quite filling (and reasonably priced).
Other highlights of YK fast-ish food that deserve mention: Bruno’s (hands down the best pizza in town, although it’s too bad they’re not open late anymore), and Main Street Donair and Falafel (just good lunch food all round, and some of the friendliest owner/operators I’ve ever met). Also, the Gold Range Bistro deserves mention for its massive egg rolls, appropriately named “You Ever Seen Egg Roll This Big Before” (I’m not kidding, that’s actually what it’s called on the menu – and it lives up to the name). Another personal favourite of mine has always been Winks’ (now Mac’s), as I’ve probably put the owner’s kids through college by buying absolutely inordinate amount of chicken wings at 3 A.M. multiple times.
Yes, Godson. It never ceases to make me smile that Yellowknife’s most well-known local artist is a Filipino-Latino (he would tell you to call him a Filatino) rapper. I’ve had more great times going to Godson shows than I can possibly remember. Plus, he educated our youth on the perils of drinking and driving. Great message, great music, great shows, great guy.
By extension, I would be remiss to skip over the fantastic weekend that is Folk on the Rocks. Every year, the festival brings together some of the world’s most talented musicians, excellent food, and a ton of Yellowknife’s most colourful characters dancing ridiculously to create a flurry of absolute fantastic-ness that never seems to go long enough, even though you’re absolutely spent when it’s all over. Great, great times.
7: The long summer days
Slo-pitch, bridge jumping, fishing, camping, you name it, YK has it. Plus the fact that the sun doesn’t go down for a month and a half make it easier to cram more stuff into every single day. Some personal favourites include the quarry outside of town (hidden from the road, but a great little cliff-jumping spot), and the fact that it is perfectly legitimate to pack up everything into a canoe, head out to an island, and camp on said island (just make sure you pack everything back out with you). It’s always terrible when someone inevitably wimps out and you have to paddle them back to shore in a canoe at 3AM, but at least it’s still light out.
Say what you will about Team NWT’s usually underwhelming results in national competitions, but the sports scene in the north is absolutely wonderful for many reasons. Where else can you get the opportunity to attend national level events in multiple sports? Add that to the great stories that stem from each Arctic Winter Games every couple years (mainly because about half of the city’s high school population attends for one sport or another) and you have a scene that everyone can be a part of, which is not the case in many other places.
Plus, it’s not like we can’t compete with the big boys. Thomson D’Hont and Michael Gilday are national caliber athletes, and have proven it on multiple occasions. My little brother Devin is well on his way to making Canada’s national squash team. Hell, Brendan Green (who, granted, is from Hay River, but still) is a freaking Olympian!
The local sports scene is great too. The amount of YKBA trash talking, ref bashing and general angriness makes every game an event, and the fastball league, while small, is full of a bunch of Yellowknife’s most devoted, colourful individuals. The slo-pitch league is huge and very well run, and I’d imagine the same is true for Yellowknife’s soccer, flag football, ultimate Frisbee, and volleyball leagues as well. Plus, it’s message boards, and general pissed-offedness make it twice as fun (who cares if you use an illegal glove? It’s freaking slo-pitch!). And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Racquet Club’s Year End Squash Tournament, which is one of the best events in the nation, and is quickly being recognized as such. Steak and lobster dinner included with entry? Sign me up!
5: Ice road drifting
Most of the cities’ 20-somethings can attest to this (and if not, I’ve just outed high-school Garrett as an idiot), but ice road drifting is just a specific thing that I think is totally awesome/unique. Where else could you drift on an ice road (just make sure the coast is clear!!)? Honourable mention goes to tying a sled to the back of a car and pulling it across the ice road. So northern, so dangerous, so Yellowknife.
4: The people
You don’t really realize how cool the community of Yellowknife is until you’ve lived somewhere else for an extended period of time. The friendliness and sense of community is just something that’s hard to replicate. Maybe it’s because we’re a frontier town, and everyone has a sense of respect for everyone else who lives here. If you had the cajones to move to Yellowknife, you must be at least a bit of a badass.
Also the continuity here contributes to the small town feeling. Everyone has at least five friends whose family has a street named after them, and at least one friend whose mom or dad went to high school with their mom or dad. My junior fastball team had no fewer than 3 players whose parents played together on that very same team, 20 years earlier. Every city has some of those “legendary families,” but in Yellowknife you almost feel outnumbered by them, which is pretty cool.
And another thing – everyone who lives here is as tough as nails. It’s not easy to walk to school/work/home after a night out at 2 A.M. in jeans on a day where it’s minus 40 outside, but we do it without complaining. If someone from Vancouver tried to do that, they’d die. It’s just that simple. We’re genetically more awesome than people from down south.
3: The land of opportunity
Want to work for a newspaper? We’ve got a place for you up here. Working on an airplane more your speed? No problem. Hell, are you just looking for a cushy office job? We’ve got you covered. If you want it, and you’re competent and qualified, you can do it in Yellowknife (and the pay isn’t half bad, either!). It’s pretty refreshing, especially when you come from another part of the country and see how people can struggle for jobs in some of Canada’s bigger cities.
2: The spot where I put everything I couldn’t fit in the other spots
There’s way more to run down, but I’m down to the final two spots on the list. So here are a bunch of other things that make Yellowknife so fantastic:
- The fact that our sledding hill has a half pipe (and that people actually take it on sleds).
- The abundance of Ford F-150s over any other vehicle (my personal record of F-150’s I’ve counted on a single city block is 12).
- The fact that we have the busiest and most profitable Tim Hortons in Canada, and that we’re extremely proud of that. Yellowknife: where bringing Starbucks into town may just start a riot.
- The way half the people in town love it here (like me) and the other half just can’t wait to leave.
- Student Financial Assistance. Words cannot explain how nice it is at the end of the school year when all your friends down south are scrounging together enough cash for a 6-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and you can buy a celebratory bottle of champagne and a nice steak (I exaggerate a bit, but you get the point).
- The way you can use “I’m from Yellowknife” as a conversation starter down south (and you know you’ve done it).
- The fact that the Boston Pizza here puts Thundermugs (2-pint beer glasses) on special during the summer, and that people get legitimately excited about it. One thing you can say about being from here: we all can put the stuff away (I’ve been to a few workday lunches where Thundermugs have been ordered).
- How everyone in town, even the people who don’t have them, knows how to drive a skidoo. And if you don’t, you’ve got some explaining to do.
- Snow volleyball and the all-sand golf course. Enough said.
And finally, we come back to that feeling I mentioned at the beginning. That feeling you can’t explain, but that everyone in Yellowknife has collectively shared at one time or another. The one you feel when you fly in and see Con Mine on the horizon after being away for an extended period of time, when you pick out your house as the plane lands, when you walk to the terminal through the freezing cold for the first time. That feeling that you’ve never left, and that you could never lose.
Life in the ‘Knife, baby. There’s nothing like it.
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