Friendly Little City

Yellowknife has a reputation as a friendly little city, a happy reminder of its frontier past. The City of Yellowknife sits on the north shore of Great Slave Lake, the ninth-largest lake in the world, and the deepest recorded lake in North America. It is a unique urban outpost of a town, with all the modern amenities of a large city in the middle of a vast subarctic wilderness. You are only minutes away from nature trails, lakes, abundant wildlife, and waterfalls. 

Yellowknife sits atop the Canadian Shield, a large expanse of ancient rock known as the Slave Geological Province, the oldest rocks dating to four billion years when the planet was young. It is in these ancient volcanic rocks that a treasure can be found - gold, silver, tungsten, copper, and diamonds have all been mined in the Yellowknife region. Explorers will enjoy some of Yellowknife's unique geologic landforms that have shaped the landscape. In the 1930s, prospectors found gold on the shores of Great Slave Lake and a community was born. You can still see some of the original buildings, and wander the picturesque streets and lanes echoing with stories of danger, determination and joie de vivre.

Today Yellowknife is a culturally rich city, capital of the Northwest Territories, and home to more than 18,000 people. Many aboriginal people living here are descendants of the Yellowknives, the Dogrib Dene and Metis families who have historical ties to the area. However, settlers have come from around the world to Yellowknife. We estimate that we speak over 25 languages (including our own eight official territorial languages). We come today from Beijing to Budapest, Coral Harbour, Nunavut to Capetown, South Africa, and Osaka to Oslo. Chances are, you’ll meet someone from your Canadian home town or your home country, living and working here in Yellowknife.

Historically, the north shore of Great Slave Lake was home to the Dene people - the Yellowknives and Tlicho Dene. Their descendants have continued to live in the Yellowknife region and today have built the communities of Dettah and N'Dilo. Their Athapascan language carries similarities to other Dene people of North America. To greet a Dene, you shake hands, as there is no direct translation for hello and goodbye in Tlicho. Some common words and phrases include: Mahsi cho ("Thank you very much") Sombak’e ("Yellowknife/Money place") Tide ("Great Slave Lake") Ekwo ("Caribou") He?e ("Yes") Ile ("No").

History of Yellowknife

People claim the gold is paved with streets in Yellowknife. It’s true, and if you check the sidewalk in front of the Bank of Commerce you’ll find a sample of Yellowknife gold. The two mines, Con and Giant, produced gold for over 60 years, and tunnels burrow far below the city streets, and even out under Yellowknife Bay. Strangely, our name, Yellowknife, comes from copper, not gold.

The explorer Samuel Hearne trekked through this country in 1770, and encountered Aboriginal people who used copper-bladed knives. Their rendezvous place in a bay near the mouth of a river on Great Slave Lake became known as Yellowknife. Arctic enthusiasts will have heard of Sir John Franklin, who also passed through here, in 1821, on his epic journey to the Arctic coast. The locations sketched here by Midshipman Hood, traveling with Franklin, are easy to recognize even today.

A prospector, enroute to the Klondike, first reported gold in Yellowknife Bay in 1898, but the find was too remote and was forgotten in the rush to claim Klondike riches. With the development of the airplane and new government interest in the north during the 1920s-1930s, prospectors returned to Great Slave Lake. Two prospectors, Johnny Baker and Herb Dixon, discovered gold on the Yellowknife River in 1933, and returning the following summer, Baker made the chance observation of very high-grade gold on the east shore of Yellowknife Bay in September 1934. The discovery became known as the Burwash, and the small mine there operated during 1935 and 1936. Meanwhile, government geologists arrived at Yellowknife Bay in the summer of 1935 to map the regional rocks.

More prospectors arrived and important gold discoveries were uncovered. It was the Great Depression, and times were tough in southern Canada. Downtrodden families traveled north for new opportunities in scow and boat across one of the largest and wildest lakes in the world. They set up a tent camp in what is now Old Town, surrounded by polished and glistening Precambrian rock.

By 1938, Yellowknife was a boom town, with a RCMP constable, a doctor, hotels, restaurants, and a theatre. The first gold bar was poured in September 1938 at the Con Mine, and several other mines followed. The little tent camp quickly became permanent, and after a lull during World War II, expanded to a larger area still known today as New Town.

Yellowknife was named capital of the Northwest Territories in 1967, when the territorial government moved from Ottawa, Ontario. We became a City in 1970. The only city in the Northwest Territories to date, we are now the mining, communications and administrative center for this vast northern territory.

In the last few years, with the same frontier spirit that built the city, Yellowknifers helped develop the first Canadian diamond mine, northeast of the city. It was five years in the making and cost more than a billion dollars, with a hefty flow of those expenditures going to businesses in Northern Frontier.

Today, Yellowknifers have switched to diamond mining, and diamond cutting and polishing. That’s the reason the “City built on gold” now bills itself as the “Diamond Capital of North America” TM.

For more information on the City of Yellowknife go to:

Aboriginal Communities

The communities of Dettah and N'Dilo located are home to the Yellowknives Dene First Nation. Both communities are accessible by road. In winter, a wide ice road on Yellowknife Bay shortens the driving distance to Dettah, and in summer many families commute by boat. Some residents follow a traditional Dene lifestyle, fishing and hunting nearby, while others work in Yellowknife and at the diamond mines to the north. Each community has a school while other services are provided from Yellowknife.