Our time in Yellowknife has come to an end. What began as a quick stop at the end of the highway in Northwest Territories, ended as an almost two week long stint, and our time there was quite amazing. Goodbye Yellowknife and all of the amazing people who reside within.
But before we ACTUALLY leave the place (in a spiritual sense, we physically left it a week ago), here is some more info.
Yellowknife is a lively city full of passionate people. Very much everyone we spoke to, regardless if they are in the architecture profession or not, has strong feelings and a certain appreciation for various architecture throughout the city. Whether it be the home of the local architect Kayhan Nahji, widely known as the 'teepee' house, or the St Pat's High School located downtown which demonstrates how natural bedrock can be used for utility purposes INSIDE of the building (such as seating area for the students), Yellowknifers know what is happening with the city's architecture, and they want to talk about it. Which was sure as all heck great for us!
Some of the main topics of interest (some of which are architecture related, and some of which are just Yellowknife related, HA!) that were brought up to us time and time again include the following:
The Old Town - The Old Town is a section of the city that draws many tourists because of its artistic and odd nature of existence. It used to be the main area of the city itself, back when the population was smaller, but as the population grew and issues with plumbing and waste management arose, the downtown area of the city was moved just up the hill. Many of the interesting folk that we met in Yellowknife reside in Old Town: throughout various 'abodes' such as an ~70 year old barn-turned-residence, small shacks, and a zinc-plated condominium building built on top of uneven bedrock. The centre of Old Town is a bare rock that juts up out of the earth, called Pilot's Monument. There is a light on top of the rock that flashes when a float plane is arriving into the bay, warning boaters and canoers to get out of the way.
The Woodyard - Located in the Old Town, the Woodyard used to be a Woodyard. Some fellows leased the land back in the 30's, to use as a yard to store wood. They built shacks on the land for their workers to have a place to live for free, and eventually many shacks were erected across the whole area. When the lease ended, people continued to squat in the shacks throughout the Woodyard. Since the late 70s and 80s, many of the shacks have been taken down, and only a few remain today. One of the Woodyard residents, Alison McCreesh, recently published a graphic novel about her experience moving to Yellowknife and the Woodyard. Check it out here!
The Houseboats - There are about 40 houseboats in the bay in Yellowknife. Living in a houseboats means that you fall out of city jurisdiction, and thus do not have to build to code. From what I understand, most are still built to code, because having an issue on your houseboat such as a fire would be disastrous, as you cannot obtain insurance. There has been talk of making changes in regards to the houseboats over about 40 years (based on foreseen safety issues such as drowning, or fires, and such), but still nothing has come of it. Since the houseboats have existed, no one has drown trying to get to and from their home. Another interesting fact: if a houseboater wants to sell their house, its often tough because a person cannot get a mortgage for a houseboat. But those who live on houseboats LOVE it, regardless the extra work it requires to live comfortably.
The Aurora - The Aurora Borealis, also refered to as the Northern Lights, are easily viewable in the skies of Yellowknife. We were told that we arrived in the city at the perfect time because it is still not to cold, but the Northern Lights are out and dancing during many of the nights. The Aurora isn't too visible in the summer months because it is too light outside. The winter is the best time to see the Aurora because it is dark for most of the day. I tried to learn about why the Aurora exists, in about 10 minutes, and all I took from it was that it is caused by 'solar storms', storms that occur on the surface of the sun. Yay!
The cold as all heck winters that last for eight months - We didn't get much experience in the cold as heck winters because we weren't there to experience them, but we heard a lot about it. The sun rises at 10 and sets at 3. It reaches -50 Celcius. Oddly enough, most people have nothing bad to say about the winter. Many people actually rave about it. Those who have experienced Southern Ontario winters say Yellowknife winter is actually better than Southern Ontario! Also, most of the people who survive this city for longer than a few months tend to be outdoorsy, and enjoy the winter weather for all to activity that it provides.
The long and hot summer days that don't last for too long - The summer is short in Yellowknife. But people take advantage of it. The day is long, with an early sunrise and a late sunset, so it is important to be out-and-about for as long as possible, taking advantage of the heat and the sun.
The Snow Castle - The snow castle is a structure built yearly on Yellowknife bay, after the water is completely frozen. Headed by main man 'Snowking', a team of people spend about a month to build a castle made of snow and ice, and then for the month of March, various festivities are held in the castle.
The Diamond Mines - Diamonds were discovered in the north of NWT in the early '90s, and now four diamond mines are in existence. Many of the workers at the diamond mines go to work for two weeks, and head back to the city for two weeks. Here is a cool video of one of the diamond mines, Diavik.
Additionally, many Yellowknifers mentioned some of the current issues that the city as a whole is dealing with, which include:
The demolishing of the Robertson Headframe at the Con mine - The Robertson headframe is a landmark in Yellowknife. But because it exists on a contaminated closed down mine, it's destiny seems to be tending towards demolition. The headframe is 76 m tall, and is currently the tallest building in the Territory. No one knows when, or really even if, it will be taken down.
The blasting of the natural bedrock to make flat area to build on - Many of the contractors coming into Yellowknife these days find it cheaper and quicker to blast away the uneven bedrock when building new residences and public buildings. People are mad, and people are sad about this. Although it takes a bit more work to develop a building design that incorporates the uneven terrian below, it allows for the natural landscape to persist, and that is what many Yellowknifers want. One of the most interesting buildings in Yellowknife was built in the 80s as a personal residence. Initially belonging to Gino Pin, his home was built on the side of a rock, even when city official didn't beleive that the land could be used for building.
Transcience - I mentioned the issue of transience in a previous blog post. But this becomes an issue. People come to Yellowknife without knowing much about what it will be like. Many will have a year or two on a work contract in the city, and when it is up, they head back south. We were told that if you live here long enough, you come to realize that most of the new friends you make will likely be up and gone soon enough. It becomes tough for many jobs, because new people have to continually be trained in the same area, and then nothing more can come out of the job because there isn't enough experience to make it to the 'next level'.
One more thing I must mention - in a previous blog post I noted that Yellowknife is named Yellowknife because it's main industry in the 1930's was knife production, and they all tended to be yellow in colour due to the pigment of the bedrock found under the Great Slave Lake. Which I then followed up with a 'just kidding'. While this statement is definitely historically inaccurate, it isn't that far from the truth.
Yellowknife was named as such because of the knives that the local Dene band carried. This native group lived on the islands around Great Slave Lake, and their knives had yellow copper blades.
Peace and love,
A quick decision made when we were still in Valemount, BC, led us up to the end of the highway in the Northwest Territories. By August 29th, we had already driven from Edmonton to Valemount, and had done this because we were planning to head up to Whitehorse, Yukon as our first (and only) stop in the North, and Valemount was on the way from Edmonton. But one short conversation regarding another potential plan led to a quick detour to the Northwest Territories. So on August 29th, we turned back around, headed back to Edmonton, and took a straight away to Yellowknife.
The ride north was interesting. It was a lot of Derk in the driver's seat, and a lot of me doing not much. We stopped for the first night because roads can be quite dangerous in the night in the Northern parts of Canada, and then we continued on at 7 am the following morning. Eventually the trees got shorter, the landscape got rockier, and then we were in Yellowknife, after only about 20 hours of driving.
In Valemount and for days prior, we had been listening to three songs on repeat, just over and over and over again: John Denver's Country Roads, Dublin Blues by Guy Clarke, and Outlaw Shit by Whalen Jennings. Unfortunately, our source of these three songs was long since left in Jasper, Alberta (it was played on a speaker that was connected to a phone that is owned by an awesome friend named Allie who jumped out of the van in Jasper because she had no intention of following us up to the territories). So we were stuck listening to a variety of songs, much more than three, for the whole of our journey (bummer, right).
Now, in Yellowknife, I am sporting a yellow knife pin on my sweater (which I wear everyday since I live in a van) and on the blade it says "Yellowknife". The true mark of a newly fabricated Yellowknifer, or perhaps just the mark of a visitor.
Within approximately 18 hours in the city, people recognized us, thanks to the -Visit Yellowknife- Facebook page, which shared a post with our photo and a short blurb about why we are in the city in the first place.
We took this adventure, which began at the end of the highway, head on without any clue of how it would turn out. And with each person that we meet, and each amazingly built structure that we see, I have come to realize that we really got ourselves into something good. Derk and I looked nothing up before driving here. We didn't look at the population, at the main industry, at the main tourist attractions. We punched "Yellowknife" into Google maps....... and then went to Yellowknife.
-is the capital of the Northwest Territories
-is on Great Slave Lake
-has a small number of residents who live on houseboats, in what is known as "Houseboat Bay"
-has a snowking (the king of the snow castle that is built every winter)
-is not to be mixed up with Whitehorse, capital of the Yukon, simply because its name is a colour followed by a noun
-is named Yellowknife because it's main industry in the 1930's was knife production, and the knives all tended to be yellow in colour due to the pigment of the bedrock found under the Great Slave Lake
-used to be a thriving gold mining town, and now it is a thriving capital city in relatively close viscinity (hundreds of kilometres) to a few diamond mines
-has a small neighborhood known as the Woodyard in the the eccentric Old Town, where some people choose to live a simple life in shacks, that are often decorated with cool objects that were found at the local dump site
-has a local dump site where the common folk are permitted to salvage other's garbage
-is at the end of the highway, and it is unexpectedly big for someone like myself who expected it to be a small city with just a few streets and a few little stores (I was obviously completely wrong)
Transience is a common term around here as well. Many people come up to Yellowknife (often abbreviated as YK in the city) for work, and when winter hits, they get the heck out. Winters are long and dark and tough. You have to be a certain type of person to withstand the winters here. But of the people we've met, the long lasting residents, those who came here decades ago with the intention of staying two weeks, are still here today. Because for some people, people who like the outdoors and the snow and the cold, this place is really heaven. The outdoor enthusiast seems to thrive in YK. It wasn't until our fifth day here that we met someone who lives here who doesn't completely love the city at all times of the year.
Derk and I are afraid that the rest of our trip won't be able to compete with YK.
Peace and love,
The above photo displays the side of a residential recycling bin that was out at the end of a driveway on recycling day.