Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 35 – June 20, 2010 Yellowknife


Last night was cleared and the sky was bright all night long. This morning we woke up to rain but there is hope as the sky is starting to clear. As the morning was rainy, we went into town to the Javaroma Café and took advantage of free WiFi there after which we visited the Yellowknife Museum.

Single Engine Passenger Plane

Gipsy Moth Single Engine Passenger Plane

The Mackenzie or Deh Cho flows out of Great Slave Lake and meanders north and west for almost 1243 miles (2000) km to the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic. For thousands of years, it has supplied food and travel access to the Dene of the NWT. Since the early 1800’s it has given outsiders access to its rich resources of furs and minerals. Today large tugs and barges still use the Big River to get fuel and supplies to remote communities and camps.

A brief history of Yellowknife

Yellowknife, and the adjacent river and bay on Great Slave Lake, derive their names from the knives once used by Dene of the area. The blades were fashioned from naturally occurring copper gathered along the northern reaches of the also aptly named Coppermine River, near the Arctic coast.

The people of the city’s two neighboring communities of Dettah and N’Dilo are the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Their ancestors – Slavey, Dogrib, and Chipewyan speaking Dene have inhabited the region since time immemorial, with known archaeological evidence dating back thousands of years.

In the 1700’s the Metis families came to trade then the trading companies. Company trading post explorers Samuel Hearne in 1770, Peter Pond in 1786 and Alexander Mackenzie in 1789 came next. John Franklin completed his overland trip to the Arctic coast in 1820.

By the 1930’s new transportation systems over water and by air were established and the Yellowknife area became more accessible. In 1933 Johnny Baker and Herb Dixon made the first free gold discovery up the Yellowknife River. The Con Mine became the first NWT gold producer with the pouring of a brick in September 1938 and modern Yellowknife was born.

By 1942 Yellowknife was a small village with many services and several producing gold mines.  Grant Mine struck gold in 1944 in town, with no room for expansion a new town site was surveyed in 1945 where the present downtown is today.

In the summer of 1953, Yellowknife became a municipality and its first major was elected. In 1967 Yellowknife was named capital of the Northwest Territories and later was designated a city on January 1, 1970.

The goldmines which formed the City have all closed, with the first, Con, being the last in 2004. But the mining industry remains strong and prosperous by the diamond mines to the north.

Highest temperatures are in July in the low to mid 20C (68F) range and occasionally above 30C (86F). Winters are long and cold with plenty of days below -30C (-22F) and sometimes down to -40C (-40F).

The Last Mooseskin Boat

Moose Skin Boat During the late fur trade period, the Shu’htaot’jne exchanged meat for trade goods with the European traders in the Mackenzie Valley. Around 1800, in order to transport increasing quantities of meat to the trading posts, the Shu’htaot’jne innovated a large watercraft. Using available materials, the Shu’htaot’jne designed a cargo craft that suited the swift moving currents of mountain rivers. These large boats were made from raw moose skins stretched over wooden frames and could be propelled both by oars and a sail. Inspiration for the boat may have come from the Hudson Bay Company’s, wooden York boats.

The Shu’htaot’jne constructed the boats at mountain camps in early summer. The boats were dismantled after each river journey to trading posts along the Mackenzie River. The hides were then tanned and use for other purposes, while the wooded frames were discarded. The Shu’htaot’jne returned to the mountains on foot to hunt and trap over the winter months.

With increasing settlement in communities, the mooseskin boat had largely disappeared from the Shu’htaot’jne way of life by the 1950’s.

This boat was built as part of a project to revive and document the knowledge associated with mooseskin boat building. In March of 1981, a group of Shu’htaot’jne traveled to their ancestral homeland in the Mackenzie Mountains. There they spent several months hunting moose, scraping hides, making sinew, felling trees and preparing to build this large boat. Once all the materials were ready, they assembled the boat in five days. In early June, they sailed the boat down the tumultuous Keele River. Upon their arrival in Tulita a week later, the whole community celebrated their journey and the revival of traditional boat building skills. The boat was towed to Normal Wells and then sent by barge and truck to the museum in Yellowknife.


Monday, June 21st will be our last full day in Yellowknife. Tomorrow we will head south to pick up he Alcan Highway. We will be without internet service until we get to High Level so Monday’s Yellowknife update will be posted then.

No comments: