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A Basic Introduction to Yellowknife

Yellowknife Skyline in Winter

You might be coming to Yellowknife for a multitude of reasons. Maybe it is for work or business, or maybe it is to see the Aurora Borealis or catch some world-famous fish. Whatever the reason it is interesting to understand how Yellowknife came to be the city it is today.

Sombe K'e Civic Plaza

Firstly, Yellowknife is the Capital City of the Northwest Territories but long before Yellowknife was established it has been the home of the Yellowknives and Tłįcho Dene. The Dene have lived and travelled through this area for thousands of years. For more information on the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, you can visit their website. For information about the Tłįcho Dene, you can also see their website.

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Yellowknife was permanently settled in approximately 1934, when gold deposits were discovered in the area. 

For the next 70 years, gold mining helped build Yellowknife into the bustling city it has become today. Although in 2004 gold production in Yellowknife came to a close. To learn more about the mining history of Yellowknife, you can visit the website of the Yellowknife Historical Society

As Yellowknife grew became the centre for industry in the Northwest Territories, it also became the Capital City in 1967. This brought an influx of government officials from Ottawa. To this day, Yellowknife is widely known as a Government town, with the Territorial Government being a leading employer in Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories as a whole.

Yellowknife Government Buildings

While the gold production was slowing down, a new wave of energy came to Yellowknife when Diamonds were discovered 350 miles north of the city in 1991. By 1998 the first diamond mine in Canada went into operation. Several more diamond mines opened around Yellowknife over the next 20 years with the most recent opening in 2016. Mining and the industries that support it are the next biggest employer in Yellowknife and the NWT after the Territorial Government.

In roughly 2010, Aurora tourism started to take off in Yellowknife. While having been around since about 1989, its full potential took 20 years to fully develop and in just 9 years Yellowknife has become a primary destination for Aurora Viewing. Each year this draws visitors from around the world to Yellowknife.

Yellowknife has grown from its rough-and-tumble gold mining days to a modern city. While only boasting a population of just under 20,000 people there are dozens of nationalities that call the city home. 

While offering many modern amenities, such as nice restaurants and hotels, multiple shopping options, it is also only seconds away from the Northwest Territories wilderness and all the possibilities that come with it. 

In the summers, the sun never sets, so it makes camping, paddling, boating, hiking or just general enjoyment of the outdoors easy and desirable. While in the winter, when the lakes freeze and the trails are covered in snow, skiing, skating, snowshoeing and snowmobiling are as common as anything else.

Yellowknife Festivals and Events

Scattered throughout the year in Yellowknife are many annual festivals – see our full list here – bringing together residents and visitors to celebrate, be it on a sandy beach listing to folk music at Folk on the Rocks, or in a Snow Castle on a frozen lake.

At the end of the day, Yellowknife is a wonderful place to live and enjoy life, but also an extraordinary place to visit, regardless of the time of year.

If you are looking to move to Yellowknife or are new to Yellowknife look through our section on Moving to Yellowknife. If you are interested in visiting Yellowknife look through our Visiting Yellowknife section.

To learn more about what life is like in Yellowknife, look through our Life in Yellowknife section.

Check out the Yellowknife Online guides to each month in Yellowknife here.

Looking for current events in Yellowknife, check out our event calendar.


About the author

Kyle Thomas

Kyle grew up in Yellowknife and is a local entrepreneur, writer, baker, and Yellowknife Advocate 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 A website all about living, working and thriving in Yellowknife for residents, newcomers, and visitors.

1 Comment

  • I enjoyed reading the limited amount of information and imagine there must be more but have never enquired. Having come to live in Yellowknife in 1966, things have changed considerably since I left in 1970. Because I still have family living there, I have been back several times and have noticed the changes along the way. Yellowknife has changed and I could get lost there now because it is not the same as it was when I left however, CIBC is still there in the same place as are a few other landmarks. Thanks for the nostalgic look back.

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