Thursday, December 11, 2008


Today I thought I'd write a little bit about Yellowknife, seeing as I have spent quite a bit of time here over the last couple of years.

Yellowknife is the capital of the North West Territories, a province of Canada. It is a strange little town, quite literally in the middle of nowhere, and only about 500km's south of the Arctic Circle. It has a population of only about 20,000, but still manages to retain the feeling of a bigger city. The official website ( provides a good summary - "built on gold, nurtured by government and growing with diamonds". An alternative view however is the one that I saw on a sign at one of the local restaurants - "a small drinking town with a big government problem"

The government is the biggest employer of the town, with the diamond industry a close second. The NWT is a territory, which means it is primary controlled by the federal government. I have heard it said that Yellowknife would not have the facilites (and not be able to survive) if it didn't have the continuous injection of funds provided by the federal goverment. You do notice it though that there is a LOT of government departments/sections/offices.

It has a fully functioning airport capable of handling Boeing 737's, quite a few high-rises, all the major fast food chains and quite a few restaurants and bars, a number of full-service hotels and all the required shopping stores (Wall-Mart, Extra Foods, Shoppers etc.)

It can be a very beautiful place - both in the summer and winter. As I write this I am looking out the window from the 9th floor of one of the office towers. It is -32 degrees celsius outside (-40 when I got here a couple of days ago), but the sun is shining, there is snow on the trees, the wind is still and honestly it looks like the magical Christmas winter wonderland that you find on postcards of Sweden or the Swiss Alps. There are lakes everywhere, as is common in this part of Canada, (I can see at least three from my window, and Yellowknife has been built on the Great Slave Lake, one of North Americas biggest), and in the summertime, when the temperature gets up to the high 20's and the lakes have all melted, and everyone is outside enjoying themeselves, you can really see why people love to live here. The fall, when all the leaves change and drop off the trees, is something else again. Of course it's not always like this - the fall also brings out the a fierce wind though, and it snows for a few weeks at the start of winter, and it can be dreary, especially when fog closes the airport for days at a time.

Aeroplanes are more often than not the only way to get to a lot of the places in Alaska and Northern Canada, so the airport really is the lifeblood of the town. It takes the workers (and supplies) up to the mines, provides food and emergency access for all the little settlements around, and drops the tourists off.

Tourism is also a major part of Yellowknife. In the summer there are all sorts of water sports out on the Great Slave (including pike fishing, which I've done), game hunting and spotting (caribou, elk, muskox, bison, buffalo), and other wildlife viewing (eagles, foxes, wolverines etc.). In the winter you can go and look at the Aurora Borealis (northern lights), go winter camping, cross country skiing/snowmobiling, take an air charter to a remote log cabin, etc etc.

Here are my recommendations if you ever need to come here...

The best hotel by far is the Explorer. It has it's own restaurant and lounge (food is better in the lounge but restaurant is great for breakfast), most of the rooms have been newly renovated (with plans to do the rest), the rooms are big and clean and it also has an extensive set of conference rooms. They have a laundry service but it is next business day return. If you can't get into the Explorer (and if you don't book early there is a big risk of this), try the Super 8 (on the other side of town and restaurant is only open for breakfast), Chateau Nova (rooms are clean but getting a bit old, restaurant was closed and looking for a new owner when I stayed there last month) or the Fraser Tower (again rooms were big but old and smelled musty - used to be apartment suites, restaurant was closed and no laundry service).

There are a few good pubs - being a Christian I don't drink but these have been recommended by others - The Black Knight, followed by Surly Bob's Sports Bar, and the Monkey Tree on the other side of town near the Super 8 motel.

My favourite restaurant is Diamante's which is attached to the Monkey Tree pub. It has the best food with prices that are not outrageous, is quiet, and has great service. The other two great options are Bullocks (bad service but some of the best fish anywhere which makes up for it) and the WildCat cafe but I think both of these are closed in the winter. For a more upper class option you can try Le Frolic, Our Place or Fuegos but in my opinion are all a bit over priced for what you get. There are also a couple of chinese+little bit of everything else type restaurants, some of which I've tried, some I haven't - these are cheap but you get what you pay for. If you are in the mood for vietnamese next to Fuegos is a good one called A Taste of Saigon. There are also the usual chains - Boston Pizza, Pizza Hut, Subway, McD's, KFC, A&W etc. etc.

I recommend you give Yellowknife Outdoor Adventures a call for anything adventurous - from photography walks to unique aircraft charters, Carlos, the owner, can do it all (or if he can't has been in Yellowknife long enough to know who can). He took my boss and I out pike fishing on the Great Slave lake and it was awesome - see my review on TripAdvisor.

Well, I think that's enough for now. I tell you though, it's bizarre seeing a busling city and airport going about their daily business as normal in -40 degrees!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your excellent site.