Sun. Oct 1st, 2023

Yellowknife is the capital of the Northwest Territories, a territory of Canada. It is on Great Slave Lake north of the Arctic Circle. The city was founded in 1934 as an outpost by gold miners prospecting in what is now called Yellowknife Bay on Great Slave Lake’s south shore. It has become a thriving urban centre and economic hub for mining, fishing, oil exploration and refining.

1. Geography

Yellowknife is situated between the barren lands and the boreal forest on a gentle slope along Great Slave Lake’s southern shore. The GSMNP is located about 50 km (31 mi) to the north. The city, with an elevation of 1,869 m (6,164.27 ft), is just south of the tree line and has a subarctic climate (Köppen climate classification Dfc). The city has one of the lowest annual sunshine totals in Canada, with just 1426 hours per year or about 3 hours of sunshine per day in July. Skies are clear from autumn to spring and partly cloudy or sunny in summer, with the lake reflecting grey clouds.

2. History

The Yellowknife area has been home to different aboriginal groups for thousands of years. The first known written exploration of the area was by French explorers who travelled down the great Mackenzie River from the Arctic Ocean in 1789. They were searching for an inland passage to Asia. The explorers, however, did not note any copper deposits and turned back in 1793 without reaching the lake that now bears the city’s name. About 50 years later, prospectors working for much wealthier mining companies arrived. In 1911 a claim was staked on what soon became “Assessment Creek”.

3. Economy

Today Yellowknife is a hive of mining activity, with the city’s economy being dominated by industrial mineral extraction in the form of gold, diamonds, recently, uranium mining. Gold was first discovered on Yellowknife Bay in 1931, but the discovery only created much interest in 1934 when a prospector named Herb Dixon took an interest in the area. 

He found gold-bearing quartz on War Eagle (21G/3) in 1934. However, mining only took off in 1939 when two prospectors, Herb Dixon and John McComb, staked claims on Back Bay (21G/2). Another person staking a claim at this time was Roger Stanton, who set up camp near where present-day Stanton Hospital is today.

3A. Mining

Mining activity stopped during World War II but resumed in 1945 when W.E. McPhee and John C. McShane staked claims on the Giant Gold mine site (21G/14) in 1945 and 1946, respectively. By July 1948, Yellowknife had enough merchants to support a Bank of Canada branch. In 1950, gold production peaked when Yellowknife had the world’s highest gold output for a single community. From that time on, production slowly declined as ore grades dropped until the mines were closed in 2002 due to low gold prices and high operating costs.

3B. Diamonds

Yellowknife’s economy was boosted in 1948 when uranium was discovered at Port Radium, about 300 km (190 mi) south of the city. That set off a uranium rush, and Yellowknife quickly became the service centre for the numerous mining camps scattered throughout the region. 

The traffic generated by this influx of prospectors gave rise to construction, housing and retail businesses and spawned other companies. A dam was built on the Flat River to create a more reliable source of drinking water for the mines. In 1950, a local entrepreneur named Bill Milner purchased a surplus military aircraft hangar.

3C. Platinum

In 1952, after a series of misfortunes, Milner sold the hangar to three Edmonton businessmen, Mel Black, Bill Hooper and Jack Hardy. They named it Yellowknife Aviation Services Limited (YAS) and hired an aircraft technician living in Baker Lake to move up the following year. The trio built a dock in Yellowknife Bay that was used for float planes until the airport opened in 1953. However, they also made a gasoline station adjacent to the hangar where Yellowknife’s first airport would be located.

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