If the Yukon is the far north at its most accessible, the Northwest Territories is the region at its most uncompromising. Just three roads nibble at the edges of this almost unimaginably vast area, which, together with Nunavut, occupies a third of Canada’s landmass. The Northwest Territories is about the size of India but contains only 60,000 people, almost half of whom live in or around Yellowknife. Unless you’re taking the adventurous and rewarding Dempster Highway from Dawson City across the tundra to Inuvik, Yellowknife will probably feature on any trip to this territory, as it’s the hub of the flight network servicing the area’s widely dispersed communities.
The region experiences a diverse climate. The north has Arctic and sub-Arctic winters whereas the south is more temperate with mild summers and cold winters. Regardless of the season, brings lots of warm clothes with you when travelling to the Northwest Territories.
The present population of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut is approximately 60,000. Dene, Inuvialuit and Métis make up 48%, non-Aboriginals about 52%. Most live in small communities; Yellowknife, the capital, has a population of more than 15,000.
Most visitors are here to fish or canoe, to hunt or watch wildlife, or to experience the Inuit cultures and ethereal landscapes. More for convenience than any political or geographical reasons, the Northwest Territories was formally divided into eight regions, each with its own tourist association. From 1999, a new two-way division will apply, the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories being renamed Nunavut, a separate entity administered by and on behalf of the region’s First Peoples. One effect has been the renaming of most settlements with Inuit names, though in many cases the old English-language names appear in much literature.
The Northwest Territories lie north of the 60th parallel, above Saskatchewan, Alberta, and eastern British Columbia, and between the Yukon and Nunavut. These dimensions represent a recent change. With the creation of Nunavut on April 1, 1999, the area of the former Northwest Territories, which stretched from the Yukon east to Baffin Island and included all of the Arctic archipelago, was reduced by approximately two-thirds, from 3,426,320 square kilometers to a still impressive 1,171,918 square kilometers.
The economy relies heavily on resource industries subject to wide fluctuations in world markets. Mining is by far the largest private industrial sector of the Northwest Territories economy. Oil and gas exploration and development are also important. The Aboriginal peoples’ traditional subsistence activities – fishing, hunting and trapping – also have an impact on the Northwest Territories economy. Sport fishing and big-game hunting play a small role as well. Commercial fishery development in the Northwest Territories – freshwater and saltwater – is being encouraged. Fur harvesting continues to be very important, supplementing the income of many Aboriginal families. Recently, tourism has become increasingly important. The Northwest Territories offers a variety of landscapes of great natural beauty, conducive to fishing, wildlife observation and other outdoor activities.