Northwest Territories

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Exploring the Past in Northwest Territories

Archaeology and History Sites in Northwest Territories

Bush Pilots’ Monument

A stone obelisk located at ‘The Rock’, a high point offering impressive views over the surrounding landscape, the Bush Pilots’ Monument commemorates those pilots who transported food and other supplies to the isolated community at Yellowknife before a reliable road system was established. Dedicated in 1967, the monument is located in the centre of the old town and remains one of the more popular tourist attractions for those visiting Yellowknife.

Church of Our Lady of Good Hope

The Church of Our Lady of Good Hope in Fort Good Hope is an active place of Roman Catholic worship. Built in the Carpenter Gothic architectural style, its plain exterior conceals the elaborate decoration that can be found inside. Construction on the church took place between 1865 and 1885, overseen by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Since 1977, the church has been recognised as a National Historic Site of Canada.

Ehdaa Historical Site

Located at the southwestern end of Fort Simpson Island, the Ehdaa Historical Site marks an area of importance for the indigenous Dene people, among whom it has long been used as a meeting place. Various archaeological features have been discovered at the site, accompanied by such visible aspects as a drum circle and a rock monument. It was also at this site that Pope John Paul II stayed during his 1987 visit to Canada.

Fort Reliance

Positioned along Great Slave Lake, Fort Reliance was established as a base for George Back’s Arctic Land Expedition in 1833. In 1855, James Anderson re-established a base at the site, this time for the Hudson’s Bay Company. In 1953, it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. The ruins of several stone structures can still be found at the site, which has largely reverted to a natural state.

Fort Smith Mission Heritage Park

Fort Smith Mission Heritage Park encompasses a cathedral, a bishop’s residence, a storage shed, and several shops which were once part of the 151-acre Oblate Catholic Mission. The mission operated in Fort Smith from 1876 right through to the 1980s. Although many of the structures originally associated with the mission have been demolished, what is left gives an interesting insight into Roman Catholic proselytizing efforts in northern Canada.

Kittigazuit Archaeological Sites

The Kittigazuit Archaeological Sites are found on an island at the mouth of the Mackenzie River. They mark the location of the largest seasonal Inuit gathering known in the Canadian Arctic between circa 1400 and 1900 and were used for much of this time as a beluga hunting station. Among the archaeological remains still visible here are the ruins of winter houses, a log cabin, and several graves, discernible due to their marker stones.

MacPherson House

MacPherson House in Fort Simpson represents a timber, square-logged structure built in 1936 that is recognised as an important example of Metis architecture. The house stands on what was the southern edge of the original Hudson’s Bay Company Fort Simpson compound. MacPherson House overlooks the confluence of the Mackenzie and Liard rivers and has tables for visitors wishing to have a picnic in this attractive rural setting.

Our Lady of Victory Roman Catholic Church, Inuvik

Often referred to as the “Igloo Church,” the Our Lady of Victory Church in Inuvik is one of the most architecturally interesting churches in Canada. Designed by the missionary Maurice Larocque, a man who had no formal architectural training, the circular structure was completed in 1960. The interior includes paintings by indigenous artist Mona Thrasher. The church remains an active place of Roman Catholic worship and a major landmark in Inuvik.

Parry’s Rock Wintering Site

Parry’s Rock Wintering Site at Winter Harbour on Melville Island is a large sandstone boulder in a prominent landscape context. Several carvings are found on it, as is a plaque erected in 1909. This commemorates the events of 1819, in which William Parry’s expedition of the Northwest Passage used it to help shield them from the biting winds. The rock was the first site in the province to be designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

Sahoyúé-§ehdacho National Historic Site

Also known as Grizzly Bear Mountain and Scented Grass Hills, the Sahoyúé-§ehdacho National Historic Site encompasses two peninsulas in Great Bear Lake and has great importance for the cultural heritage of the Sahtu people. The Sahtu have various myths and legends pertaining to the site and its role within their religious cosmology. Since 1997 it has been classified as a National Heritage Site by the Canadian government.

Museums in Northwest Territories

Hay River Historical Museum

The Hay River Historical Museum on Vale Island explores the heritage of the communities who have lived and worked along this river. The collection includes material representing both the indigenous peoples of this area and the European Canadian settlers who have inhabited the region since the 19th century. Opened to the public in 2000, the small museum occupies a structure formerly used as the Hudson Bay Store. Special events take place throughout the year.

Norman Wells Historical Centre

The Norman Wells Historical Centre in the eponymous town of Norman Wells focuses attention on the Canol Project, one of the biggest construction projects to take place during the Second World War. The Norman Wells Historical Society, launched in 1977, opened the museum in 1989, since which time it has expanded with the addition of new materials to its collection. The museum also houses several outdoor displays, including a log cabin, a tugboat, and a barge.

Northern Life Museum

The Northern Life Museum in Fort Smith explores the heritage and culture of communities living in the northernmost regions of North America, both indigenous and European Canadian. Over 17,000 artefacts are found within its collection, including material from the Inuit, Inuvialuit, Dene, and Metis peoples. The collection’s origins date from the 1950s, when Father Francis Ebner began soliciting material to prevent it being taken away by tourists; this makes it the province’s oldest museum.

Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre

Opened in 1979, the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife houses the archive of the museum and archive of the province. Its collection is diverse, stretching from prehistory to the present, including much to interest archaeological explorers. Alongside its artefacts, the centre also boasts several dioramas and a range of taxidermy animals. Various special events and exhibitions take place at the centre throughout the year.

Ulukhaktok Arts Centre

Although not a museum per se, those looking for things to see and do in the Northwest Territories might consider a trip to the Ulukhaktok Arts Centre, which specialises in the sale of traditional Arctic objects. Most of its materials have been created by local indigenous craftsmen using time-honoured methods and materials such as muskox qiviut wool and horn. A particular specialism are prints featuring traditional imagery created by indigenous artists.

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