Capital of the Northwest Territories and the province's largest city, Yellowknife enjoys the unique distinction of also being the most northern city in Canada, situated just below the Arctic Circle. The city garnered its name from a local tribe known as the Yellowknife Dene, who bartered tools crafted from copper. The area proved even richer in precious metals. Gold was found in 1934, and the city boomed from mining, followed by a later diamond-mining industry.
When looking for things to do in Yellowknife, start at The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, on the shore of Frame Lake just north of Downtown. The modern building, distinguished by an enormous wall of windows, is a major Yellowknife attraction. The museum provides a rich history of the area, displaying depictions of the Yellowknife Dene and Inuit peoples as well as artifacts from early settlers. Right next door is the Northern Frontier Regional Visitor Centre, with exhibits that cover the area's history and ecology.
For a glimpse of gold-mining life, stop into The Wildcat Café, one of the city's most popular sights. The café's vintage log cabin was first opened in 1937 and has since been designated as a Yellowknife Heritage Building. The oldest restaurant in town, The Wildcat retains the rugged look of those early mining days, a time when many residents worked against the elements in an attempt to make their fortunes.
Another look at the city's history can be found in the Old Town area, where a stone pillar—the Bush Pilot's Monument—pays tribute to the pilots who ferried passengers and freight throughout the Northwest Territories. Situated on a hill, the monument provides a stunning view of the surrounding area, from the shacks that formed part of the original town to the small bush-pilot outfits still operating out of Yellowknife.
During the short summer season, Yellowknife is home to several lively festivals, most notably Folk on the Rocks, a music gathering held every year since 1980. With a slogan of “Where the road ends, the music begins,” the event showcases musicians from Northern Canada as well as other parts of the world. Also popular is Raven Mad Daze, a street festival celebrating the summer solstice.
Even in the winter, Yellowknife residents find reasons to make merry. The annual Snowking Winter Festival boasts a formidable snow castle that acts as a performance space for plays, puppet shows and even hockey games. Films are shown using the snow-packed walls as screens, always drawing a crowd for the Yellowknife attraction.
Thanks to the city's unique geography, travellers will get a sense of the expanse of wilderness all around them, from the wide-open tundras to the many inlets of Great Slave Lake, while still maintaining a feel for the tight-knit community of Yellowknife. Whether taking in the mining-camp sights or watching puppets dance inside a castle made of snow, travellers to the Northwest Territories will find a bevy of unique things to do in Yellowknife.