The Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories

ORIGIN OF NAME: The name "the North-Western Territories," initially assigned by the British government, once referred to all the lands held by the Hudson's Bay Company.

CAPITAL: Yellowknife.

NICKNAME: Canada's Last Frontier, Land of the Polar Bear, or North of Sixty.

ENTERED CONFEDERATION: 15 July 1870; reorganized 1 September 1905.

MOTTO: The New North (unofficial).

COAT OF ARMS: The crest consists of two golden narwhals (representing marine life) on either side of a compass rose, which symbolizes the magnetic north pole. The white upper portion of the shield represents the polar ice pack and is crossed by a wavy blue band symbolic of the Northwest Passage. The wavy diagonal line symbolizing the treeline separates the red (the tundra of the north) from the green (the forested lands of the south). The historical economic resources of the land—mineral wealth and the fur industry—are represented respectively by gold bricks in the green portion and the head of a white fox in the red area.

FLAG: The territorial shield of arms centered on a white field, with two vertical blue panels on either side. The white symbolizes the snow and ice of the winter, while the blue represents the territory's lakes and waters.

FLORAL EMBLEM: Mountain avens.

TARTAN: The official tartan of the Northwest Territories is a registered design in shades of red, green, yellow, and blue.


TREE: Jack pine.


TIME: 5 AM MST = noon GMT.


At some time in its history, the Northwest Territories (NWT) has included all of Alberta, Saskatchewan, the Yukon, and Nunavut, and most of Manitoba, Ontario, and Québec. The Northwest Territories occupies about six percent of the total land area of the country. The NWT has a total area of 587,206 square miles (1,541,844 square kilometers), making it almost as large as the state of Alaska.

Between 1905 and 1999, the Northwest Territories included all of Canada north of the 60th parallel, except the Yukon and portions of Québec and Newfoundland. On 1 April 1999, the NWT was officially divided, with the eastern part becoming the new territory of Nunavut. The western part so far has kept the name "Northwest Territories," but is sometimes referred to as "western NWT" or "Western Arctic" in order to avoid confusion with the larger pre-1999 NWT. The NWT is now bordered on the north by the Arctic Ocean, Beaufort Sea, and polar ice; on the east by Nunavut; on the south by Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia; and on the west by the Yukon Territory. From the 60th parallel, the NWT stretches 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers) to Cape Malloch on Borden Island; the territory is 823 miles (1,325 kilometers) long from east to west. The NWT covers 452,478 square miles (1,171,918 square kilometers) and includes Banks Island, Prince Patrick Island, and the western portions of Victoria Island and Melville Island.

Northwest Territories Population Profile

The Northwest Territories

Estimated 2003 population 41,900
Population change, 1996–2001 -5.8%
Percent Urban/Rural populations
Urban 58.4%
Rural 41.6%
Foreign born population 6.4%
Population by ethnicity
Canadian 7,255
English 6,175
Scottish 5,190
Irish 4,470
Inuit 4,140
French 3,860
North American Indian 3,375
German 3,005
Métis 2,955
Ukrainian 1,270
Dutch (Netherlands) 750
Polish 650
Norwegian 590

Population by Age Group
Population by Age Group

Top Cities
Top Cities

City Population, 2001
Yellowknife 16,055
Hay River 2,892
Inuvik 2,884


Like the Yukon, the NWT can be divided into two broad geographical regions: the taiga (a boreal forest belt that circles the subarctic zone and is typified by stands of pine, aspen, poplar, and birch trees), and the tundra (a rocky arctic region where the cold climate has stunted vegetation). One of the most remarkable features of the NWT is the Mackenzie River, one of the world's longest at 2,635 miles (4,241 kilometers).

The Northwest Territories

The delta of the Mackenzie River is a haven for waterfowl and whales. The Mackenzie is part of the second-longest river system in North America. The river was explored in 1789 by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, for whom it is named. M. Milne, Economic Development & Tourism, GNWT.
The delta of the Mackenzie River is a haven for waterfowl and whales. The Mackenzie is part of the second-longest river system in North America. The river was explored in 1789 by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, for whom it is named.
M. Milne, Economic Development & Tourism, GNWT.


There are two major climate zones in the NWT: subarctic and arctic. In the subarctic zone, average temperatures in January are -9° F (–23° C ) and 70° F (21° C ) in July, while average temperatures in the arctic zone range from -27° F (–33° C ) in January to 50° F (10° C ) in July. The average temperatures in Yellowknife are 8° F (–22° C ) from November to March and 57° F (14° C ) from June to August. As in the Yukon, the varying amounts of daylight over the year are an important influence on the climate: between 20 and 24 hours of daylight in June and up to 24 hours of darkness in December. The lowest recorded temperature was -71° F (–57.2° C ) at Fort Smith on 26 December 1917.


A short but intense summer produces many small but brilliant flowers, including purple mountain saxifrage and fireweed. The animal population of the NWT includes an estimated 700,000 barren-ground caribou, 50,000 muskoxen, 26,000 moose, 10–40,000 wolverines, 15,000 wolves, and smaller numbers of Woodland caribou, Dall's sheep, bears (polar, black, and grizzly), bison, and mountain goats. Bird species include grouse, ptarmigan, phalarope, Pacific loon, and peregrine falcon. Fish include lake trout, arctic grayling, arctic char, walleye, whitefish, and northern pike.


The Environmental Protection Service of the Department of Resources, Wildlife, and Economic Development of the NWT (RWED) has programs to address hazardous substances, waste management, air quality, and environmental impact assessment. Since the early 1990's, dust conditions in Yellowknife have improved and the 2002 total suspended particulate (TSP) levels were the lowest ever. The Giant Mine gold roaster was the largest single source of sulphur dioxide in the Yellowknife area until it closed in 1999. Only minor levels of sulphur dioxide had been detected by 2002. The Arctic Environmental Strategy introduced by the federal government in 1991 as part of its Green Plan involves northerners in projects to protect the arctic environment. It also supports communities in the development of their own plans to deal with environmental issues. The NWT has a beverage recycling program and encourages composting.


According to the 2001 census, the NWT had a population of 37,360; only the Yukon and Nunavut were smaller. Yellowknife, the capital, had a population of 16,055 in 2001. Other urban areas, and their 2001 populations, include Hay River, 2,892, and Inuvik, 2,884.

The median age of the NWT in 2001 was 30.1 years. This was much younger than the national average of 37.6. It was second youngest only to Nunavut, which was 22.1 years.


In 2001, Aboriginals (Native Peoples) accounted for 47.2 percent of the western NWT's population. In the western Arctic, the Dene have inhabited the forests and barrens for the past 2,500 years. Once nomads, today they live in communities, many still using traditional skills of hunting, trapping, and fishing. There are four major Dene cultural groups: Chipewyan, Dogrib, Slavey (north and south), and Gwich'in (Loucheux). The Inuvialuit reside primarily around the Mackenzie River delta. The Métis are descendants of Dene and ethnic European parentage and comprise eight percent of the territory's population. Other ethnicities found in the western NWT include Irish, French, German, and Ukrainian.


The NWT has eight official languages, but English is the language used most often for business and commerce. As of 2001, 77 percent of the territory's residents claimed English as their native language, while 2.6 percent declared French as their mother tongue. The Dene have four linguistic groups: Chipewyan, Dogrib, Slavey (north and south), and Gwich'in (Loucheux).


In 2001, 31.3 percent of the population—about 11,610 people—were Protestant, including Anglicans, members of the United Church of Canada, Pentecostals, Baptists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, in that order. The territory also had about 17,000 Catholics and about 180 people of Muslim faith. There were less than 160 people each of the following: Eastern Orthodox, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus. About 6,600 people had no religious affiliation in 2001.


Territorial highways are mostly all-weather gravel roads, with some paved sections; clouds of dust, flying gravel, soft spots, and long distances between service stations are common. In the north, the Dempster Highway (#8) connects Inuvik, on the Mackenzie River delta, with Dawson, Yukon, across the Richardson Mountains. In the south, the Mackenzie Highway (#1) provides access to Alberta via connecting roads leading from Yellowknife (#3), Hay River (#2), Fort Resolution (#6), and Fort Smith (#5). The Liard Highway (#7) provides entry to British Columbia. The Canol Road (#9) and the Nahanni Range Road also provide access from the Yukon, but terminate just inside the NWT border. In 2003, the NWT had 22,005 registered motor vehicles, 3,429 trailers, 371 motorcycles and mopeds, 95 buses, and 1,105 off-road vehicles.

From January to March, the coldest months of the Canadian winter, truckers drive heavy and dangerous loads across hundreds of miles of ice roads plowed on frozen lakes in order to deliver supplies to mines. There are no roads to many of the mines, which are often isolated by hundreds of lakes scattered across the territory.

English explorer Henry Hudson, while looking for a passage to Asia, landed briefly on the western shore of the bay that now bears his name. EPD Photos.
English explorer Henry Hudson, while looking for a passage to Asia, landed briefly on the western shore of the bay that now bears his name.
EPD Photos.
When the lakes freeze over for the winter, roads are plowed into the ice across the lakes.

Ferry service is provided in the summer for Highways 1, 3, and 8, which cross major rivers; in the winter, motorists simply drive over the frozen rivers. During the freezing months of fall and thawing months of spring, however, crossings by vehicles are not possible.

Air Canada provides service to Yellowknife from Edmonton, Alberta.


Northern Exploration

The Northwest Territories include many islands, lakes, rivers and the northernmost portions of mainland Canada. The first Inuit (the name given to Eskimos in Canada) are believed to have crossed the Bering Strait, a land bridge separating Asia and North America, about 5,000 years ago. They spread east along the Arctic coast and were the only people in the area for thousands of years.

The very first European explorers to arrive there were most likely the Vikings, who sailed to the eastern Arctic Ocean around 1000 A.D. The first documented visit (a visit for which definite records exist) to the territory was led by English explorer Martin Frobisher in 1576. In 1610, English navigator Henry Hudson, while looking for a sea passage to Asia (the Northwest Passage that links the Atlantic and Pacific oceans), landed briefly on the western shore of the bay that now bears his name. His discovery opened the door for further exploration of the New World's interior. In the years that followed, European explorers like Thomas Button, Thomas James, and Luke Foxe traveled to the region and mapped a large portion of the eastern Arctic, particularly the western coast of Hudson Bay.

In 1670, in an effort to stimulate the area's fur trade, the British government granted the lands west of modern Ontario to the Hudson's Bay Company. The company set up fur-trading posts along the rivers to the west as far as Alberta. They also established a few posts farther north along the shores of Hudson Bay. In 1770, the company sent one of its employees, Samuel Hearne, on an expedition north of its territorial borders into what would become the Northwest Territories. Although his journey was a success in terms of the area he covered—about 3,200 kilometers in total—the number of fur-bearing animals he encountered was lower than he had expected.

The Fur Trade and Whaling Industry

The exploration reports of a rival trading agency, the North West Company, were more encouraging. In his 1789 journey along the river that now bears his name, Alexander Mackenzie noted that the forests lining this waterway were full of fur-bearing animals. The North West Company soon set up posts along the Mackenzie River. Meanwhile, however, the Hudson's Bay Company became interested in trading in the area. A fierce competition developed between the two companies, and the rivalry continued until 1821, when the North West Company was taken over by the Hudson's Bay Company. Hudson's Bay had succeeded in forming a trade monopoly over all of the explored land in northwestern Canada and was responsible for maintaining law and order there as well.

Fur trading wasn't the only industry doing well in the Northwest in the nineteenth century. Whaling became a big business, as well. The Inuit had hunted whales for centuries, eating the skin and blubber, using the whalebones to make tools and build furniture, and burning the oil for light and heat. Europeans began whaling in the Northwest back in the 1600s, mostly looking for valuable whale oil. Whaling activity peaked between 1820 and 1840.

Between the fur traders and the whalers, Europeans reshaped the Northwest Territories, bringing with them a new economy and way of life. Communities grew around trading posts, mission schools, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police stations with the arrival of fur traders, missionaries, and government officials. Caribou, used as food for the whalers, became scarce, so the Inuit had to turn to the Europeans for food and clothing. Prior to this, the Inuit were completely self-sufficient, meaning they were able to live on their own from the land and the sea. This sudden reliance on trade with the settlers changed their lives forever. The Europeans also brought diseases like typhus, scarlet fever, and measles to the Northwest Territories. The Inuit had never been exposed to these diseases before, and many died because they lacked the resistance necessary to fight them off.

Territorial Boundaries

In 1870, the British government transferred control of the Hudson's Bay Company's land to Canada. This included all of the Northwest Territories, as well as most of the rest of western Canada. Later, the government added the islands of the Arctic archipelago to the Territories.

The westernmost part of the Northwest Territories was the location of the Klondike gold strike in 1896. The resulting rush of settlers (hence the term gold rush ) into the region prompted the Canadian government to create a separate territory, the Yukon Territory, in 1898. In 1905, both Alberta and Saskatchewan were created from the Territories. Seven years later, the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario, and Québec were enlarged, and the Northwest Territories assumed the boundaries it would maintain until its division in 1999.

Growth During World War II

Since land in the Northwest Territories is so remote and its climate is so harsh, it was largely overlooked by settlers and developers for decades after its creation. By World War II (1939–45), however, mineral exploration and the military were playing a role in northern development. Radium, a radioactive metal, was discovered in the Great Bear Lake region in the 1930s, and in 1935 a major gold find was made in Yellowknife. This discovery, along with better transportation routes, brought more settlers to the area. Yellowknife's population grew from 200 before 1930 to 1,000 by the mid-1940s. When a hydroelectric plant was built in Yellowknife in 1948, even more people and industries were drawn to the city.

During World War II, the location of the Northwest Territories made it an important part of North America's defense. To protect Canada and the United States from enemy attack, military bases and airstrips were built along the Arctic Coast. An oil pipeline was also built at this time to transport oil from the Northwest Territories to the Yukon.

During the 1950s and 1960s, bombers were stationed in the Northwest Territories to keep an eye on northern Canadian airspace. Prior to the development of ballistic missiles, this served a vital role in the defense of North America against a possible nuclear attack from the Soviet Union. Also in the late 1950s, the educational system in the Northwest Territories was largely reformed. Until this point, schooling had been provided almost exclusively through church missions. In 1959, the federal government of Canada instituted a territorial school system; ten years later, operation of the school system was turned over to the territorial government.

The Issue of Land Claims

The issue of settling Aboriginal, or native, land claims in the Northwest Territories (as well as in other parts of Canada) emerged in the 1970s. The native people argued that their culture, ways of life, and rights to the land were lost with the arrival of Europeans to the region. Their grievances were presented to the federal government, and in 1984, a final agreement was reached with the Inuvialuit of the western Northwest Territories. It provided some 2,500 people with 91,000 square kilometers (35,100 square miles) of land, monetary compensation, hunting rights, and a greater role in solving social and environmental problems. In 1992, the Gwich'in (another group of native people) settled a similar land claim that provided them with a variety of environmental rights, monetary compensation, and two portions of land: 22,422 square kilometers (8,657 square miles) in the northwestern portion of the Northwest Territories and 1,554 square kilometers (600 square miles) in the Yukon.

By far, though, the largest land claim to be settled in Canada was reached with the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut in 1993. The agreement provided about 17,500 Inuit of the eastern Northwest Territories with 350,000 square kilometers of land, financial compensation, a share in resource royalties, hunting rights, and a greater role in the management of land and the environment. The final agreement also led to the creation of a new territory, Nunavut, on the first of April 1999. The creation of this new territory has changed the Northwest Territories considerably. The area is much smaller, and the population is now almost evenly split between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals. Matters such as land claims and self-government will undoubtedly continue to create controversy early in the twenty-first century.

In 2004, Premier Joe Handley called for a greater openness and discussion in local communities. Local and regional leaders were encouraged to work together in the emerging self-governments of municipalities.


In the NWT, political power rests with elected representatives. Although a federally appointed commissioner is technically in charge of the territorial administration, the role of that office has diminished, and it generally follows the lead of the elected territorial government. Executive power is held by a 19-seat elected assembly, whose members remain as political independents. This assembly then appoints a 7-person executive council, of which 1 is chosen as government leader for the territorial government (in 1994 the title "government leader" was changed to "premier").


Territorial legislators campaign as political independents. The last election was held on 24 November 2003.

Commissioners of Northwest Territories
Commissioners of Northwest Territories

Term Commissioner
1905–19 Frederick D. White
1919–31 William Wallace Cory
1931–34 Hugh Howard Rowatt
1936–46 Charles Camsell
1947–50 Hugh Llewellyn Keenleyside
1950–53 Hugh Andrew Young
1953–63 Robert Gordon Robertson
1963–67 Bent Gestur Sivertz
1967–79 Stuart Milton Hodgson
1979–89 John Havelock Parker
1989–94 Daniel Leonard Norris
1995–99 Helen Maksagak
1999–00 Daniel Joseph Marion
2000– Glenna F. Hansen

Government Leaders of Northwest Territories
Government Leaders of Northwest Territories

Term Government Leader
1980–84 George Braden
1984–85 Richard Nerysoo
1985–87 Nick Gordon Sibbeston
1987–91 Dennis Glen Patterson
1991–94 Nellie Joy Cournoyea

Premiers of Northwest Territories
Premiers of Northwest Territories

Term Premier
1994–95 Nellie Joy Cournoyea
1995–98 Don Morin
1998–00 James Antoine
2000–03 Stephen Kakfwi
2003– Joe Handley


A village must have a total assessed value of C $10 million for the entire community to be incorporated; for a town, C $50 million; and for a city, more than C $200 million. As of 2004, Yellowknife was the sole city; there were also four towns, one village, ten hamlets, three settlements, and four charter communities. There were also twelve "first nations," or aboriginal bands, which had a degree of self-government.


The Canadian Constitution grants territorial and provincial jurisdiction over the administration of justice, and allows each territory and province to organize its own court system and police forces. The federal government has exclusive domain over cases involving trade and commerce, banking, bankruptcy, and criminal law. The Federal Court of Canada has both trial and appellate divisions for federal cases. The nine-judge Supreme Court of Canada is an appellate court that determines the constitutionality of both federal and territorial statutes. The Tax Court of Canada hears appeals of taxpayers against assessments by Revenue Canada.

The territorial court system consists of a Territorial Court, which deals with most criminal offenses, family law matters, youth proceedings, small claims, and traffic violations; a Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories, which handles serious criminal and civil cases; and a Court of Appeal, which is the highest court in the territories, hearing appeals from the Territorial Court and the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories.

The annual number of homicides varies, but usually ranges from 2 to 10. Because of the small population, the NWT often has the highest homicide rate in Canada. In 2002, there were 4 homicides in the territory. That year, there were 5,688 violent crimes per 100,000 persons and 6,046 property crimes per 100,000 persons.


Some 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, the ancestors of the modern day Dene crossed a land bridge over the Bering Sea and dispersed throughout the Western Hemisphere. The Dene first migrated into what is now the NWT some 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. The Inuvialuit migrated into the NWT from Alaska in the 1800s, replacing the Mackenzie Inuit who were decimated by diseases introduced from migrant whalers.

In 2001, 19.5 percent of the 2,355 immigrants living in the NWT had come from the United Kingdom, 9.1 percent from United States, 21.9 percent from Southeast Asia (mostly from the Philippines), and 14.2 percent from Northern and Western European countries other than the United Kingdom (mostly from Germany).

During 2001, 1.5 percent of the NWT population age 5 and over were living abroad. About 6.6 percent were living elsewhere in the NWT, and 16.8 percent were living in another province. Most interprovincial migration is with Alberta.


The Aboriginal Peoples' traditional subsistence activities—fishing, hunting, and trapping—have an impact on the territorial economy. Sports fishing and big-game hunting also play a small role. Commercial fishery development in the NWT—both freshwater and saltwater—is being encouraged. Fur harvesting continues to be very important, supplementing the income of many Aboriginal families.

Inuit arts and crafts distribute a greater amount of income more widely than any other economic activity; some 1 in 14 people of working age in the NWT earns some income by this means.

The settling of northern land claims sets the stage for increased economic activity in which all can share and have a voice. But even if development is welcome and necessary for economic prosperity, it must be managed so as not to threaten the fragile arctic ecosystem and the traditional lifestyles of the northern peoples.

In 2002, the NWT had a gross domestic product (GDP) of C $2.9 billion, or about 0.25 percent of the national total.


In 2000, the average family income was C $79,241 for a family of five. This was the highest average family income of all the provinces.


Industry in the NWT centers on processing raw materials. Food products, wood, printing and publishing, nonmetallic mineral products, and chemical products are important manufacturing sectors. In 2002, the value of manufactured shipments for the NWT was C $43.6 million.


As of 2002, employment in the NWT was 21,000 persons. There were 1,300 unemployed persons, and the unemployment rate that year was 5.8 percent. The hourly minimum wage as of January 2004 was C $8.25, the second-highest rate among the provinces, behind Nunavut.

The sectors with the largest numbers of employed persons in 2002 were: public administration, 4,500; trade, 2,500; health care and social services, 2,400; transportation and warehousing, 1,800; forestry, fishing, mining, and oil and gas, 1,500; educational services, 1,400; accommodation and food services, 1,400; construction, 1,300; finance, insurance, and real estate and leasing, 900; professional, scientific, and technical services, 800; information, culture, and recreation, 700; other services, 700; management, administration, and other support, 600; and manufacturing, 300.


A brief but intense summer growing season (due to the midnight sun) limits local production of crops, of which seasonal berries and produce for home consumption are the most prominent. There were 30 farms in the NWT in 2001. Farms in the territories are smaller than those in the southern provinces, averaging under 150 acres. Hay accounts for three-quarters of total field crops in the territories. Reindeer, musk-oxen, and horses are found on territory farms.

The territorial government has been involved in a joint project with the University of Alberta to study the use of fiber optics to illuminate greenhouses with natural light on a year-round basis.


For centuries, indigenous peoples have bred dogs as draft animals to carry packs and later to pull sleds. Before modern transportation was available, dog teams often served as the primary form of transportation during the winter months. The territory has no commercial cattle, pig, sheep, or poultry farms. Fur trapping is still practiced and is an important contributor to the economy. In the 2001/02 season, fur production was valued at C $780,000.


The Dene and Inuvialuit once depended on subsistence fishing to sustain their families and dog teams. Today, sport fishing is a popular activity and is a source of income from tourism. In 2000, there were 4,720 active resident anglers in the NWT. Over 20 world sport fishing records have been set in the NWT. Principal species sought include lake trout, arctic grayling, arctic char, northern pike, walleye, and whitefish.


Although 151.8 million acres (61.4 million hectares)—or 58 percent—of the NWT is covered by forests, only 35.4 million acres (14.3 million hectares) of this land is useful for tree harvesting. The territorial government owns 83 percent of the forests and the federal government controls the remaining 17 percent. In 2002, the forest industry produced $110,548 of domestic exports, almost entirely converted paper. Cuba is the main export

The EKATI Diamond Mine is located approximately 300 kilometers (200 miles) northeast of Yellowknife. In 2004, it was producing nearly six percent of the world's diamonds by value. Courtesy of BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc.
The EKATI Diamond Mine is located approximately 300 kilometers (200 miles) northeast of Yellowknife. In 2004, it was producing nearly six percent of the world's diamonds by value.
Courtesy of BHP Billiton Diamonds Inc.
market for the NWT's wood products (78 percent of total exports).


Mining is by far the largest private sector of the NWT economy. In 2003, the total value of mineral production was C $1.8 billion, with diamonds and gold accounting for nearly all of this amount. Production in 2003 included 2,746 kilograms (6,053.8 pounds) of gold and 11.2 million diamond carats. That year, the NWT provided 100 percent of the value of Canada's diamond and tungsten production. The NWT also produced small amounts of silver, sand and gravel, and stone in 2003.

The first major gold discovery in the western NWT was made in 1935 on the west side of Yellowknife Bay, an area than is still mined. In 1991, the discovery of diamonds in the NWT started one of the largest land claim rushes in recent Canadian history. During 1993–98, expenditures on diamond exploration in the NWT totaled C $744 million and accounted for more than 15 percent of Canada's mining exploration expenditures. Expenditures on diamonds increased to about C $160 million in 2000.

Canada's first diamond mine, the EKATI open-pit mine at Lac de Gras, opened in October 1998. As of 2003, there were five kimberlite pipes (pipe-shaped deposits of molten rock that has solidified) at the EKATI Diamond Mine at Lac de Gras (Panda, Koala, Misery, Fox, and Leslie), and applications were being processed for three more (Beartooth, Sable, and Pigeon). Four additional pipes were being sampled.


Oil and gas exploration and development are important to the territory's economy, but the industry is open to wide fluctuations in world markets. The Norman Wells oil field has been in production since 1943. The field was expanded in 1985. The field produces between 11 and 12 million barrels per year, valued at C $250– C $300 million per year. Natural gas is produced at Fort Liard, Pointed Mountain, Ikhil, and Norman Wells. New gas discoveries around Fort Liard came on stream in 2000. Initial production rates of 50 million cubic feet per day have been achieved. In 2002, 1.24 million cubic meters of crude petroleum were produced, valued at C $289.27 million. That year, 848 million cubic meters (29.95 billion cubic feet) of natural gas were produced, worth C $107.28 million. In 2000/01, electricity generated totaled 334 gigawatt hours.


In 2002, total merchandise exports for the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon amounted to C $1.1 billion. Total imports for the three territories amounted to C $65 million. The major export markets were Belgium, the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, and Finland. The major import suppliers were the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Singapore. Over 83 percent of merchandise exports from the three territories were pearls and precious stones (including diamonds). Retail trade in the NWT amounted to C $505.6 million in 2002.

Inuit arts and crafts account for a great amount of retail income in the NWT, spread out over a wide geographical area. About one in 14 persons of working age in the NWT earns some income through the sales of craft items. Services related to tourism have become increasingly important sources of income.


The fiscal year runs from 1 April to 31 March. For fiscal year 2002/03, total revenues were estimated at C $856 million, about 45 percent coming from the government of Canada. Expenditures were almost C $853 million. Major expenditure areas were health, education, public works, social services, municipal and community services, NWT housing corporation, renewable resources, transportation, and economic development and tourism.


The NWT has no provincial sales tax. There is a C $0.107 per liter tax on gasoline, and a tax of C $33.20 per carton on cigarettes.

The territorial income tax rates in 2003 ranged from 7.2 to 13.05 percent. The combined federal/territorial tax rate on ordinary income was 42.05 percent for the top marginal rate.


In 2001, there were 613 live births in the NWT, a decrease of 8.9 percent over 2000. There were 163 deaths that year, a 3.8 increase over 2000. The NWT was one of only four provinces or territories to have an increase in the number of deaths in 2001. The life expectancy in 2001 was 74.4 years for men, and 79.6 years for women. These were the second-lowest life expectancy rates in Canada. Only Nunavut had lower life expectancy rates. Reported cases of selected diseases in 2002 for the NWT included gonococcal infections, 123; chicken pox, 68; giardiasis, 10; and salmonellosis, 8. Between November 1985 and June 2003, 35 residents had become infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Larger communities such as Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, and Fort Smith have well-equipped hospitals; smaller communities have nursing stations. Air ambulance (Medevac) service is available throughout the NWT and is coordinated by the local nursing stations.

Excessive alcohol consumption is a health problem in the NWT. Smoking rates are among the highest in Canada.


In 2001, there were 12,565 households in the NWT, and the average number of persons in a household was 2.9, the second-highest number after Nunavut. Due to permafrost and a short construction season, the cost of building a house is more expensive in NWT than elsewhere in Canada. In 2001, 8,085 households lived in single-detached houses, 245 households lived in apartments in buildings with five or more stories, 485 households lived in mobile homes, and 3,745 households lived in other dwellings, including row houses and apartments in buildings with fewer than five stories. In 2002, C $102.1 million was invested in residential construction.


Elementary and secondary schools are supported by eight community boards of education and by the provincial Department of Education. There are 46 public schools offering instruction in English, 2 schools offering instruction in French, and 3 private schools. There were approximately 9,800 students enrolled in all schools in 2001.

Aurora College (formerly the Arctic College) has campuses in Inuvik, Fort Smith, and Yellowknife. There are Community Learning Centres (CLC), operated by Aurora College, in most communities. Postsecondary community college enrollment in western NWT in 2001 was about 1,200 full-and part-time students.


Nearly every community in the NWT has artisans who produce clothing, accessories, tools, weavings, beadwork, jewelry, or carvings. Other skilled crafts include the making of birchbark baskets, moose-hair tuftings, and porcupine quillwork. Studios are often found in the more populous areas of Holman, Inuvik, Fort Laird, and Yellowknife. Inuvik is the site of the mid-summer Great Northern Arts Festival, which draws artisans from throughout the territory. Per capita territorial spending on the arts in the NWT in 2000/01 was C $172, much higher than the national average ( C $68) for the territories and provinces.


The NWT Public Library Services, based in Hay River, coordinates public library service throughout the territory. Member libraries are located in Fort Norman, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Hay River Reserve, Igloolik, Inuvik, Norman Wells, and Yellowknife. Museums in the NWT include the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, the Northern Life Museum & National Exhibition Centre at Fort Smith, and the Nunatta Sunaqutangit Museum at Iqaluit.


Yellowknife has 3 radio stations (2 AM and 1 FM). CABL-TV is a cable television station based in Yellowknife; Mackenzie Media Ltd. provides cable service to the capital.


Periodicals and magazines published in the NWT include Above & Beyond , L'Aquilon , Deh Cho Drum , Inuvik Drum, News/North , Slave River Journal , Up Here, and The Yellowknifer .


Recently, tourism has become increasingly important. The NWT offers a variety of landscapes of great natural beauty, which are well-suited to fishing, wildlife observation, and other outdoor activities. The western NWT has four national parks: Nahanni National Park Reserve, west of the Liard River in the Mackenzie Mountains; Wood Buffalo National Park, west of Fort Smith and extending into Alberta; Aulavik National Park, on northern Banks Island; and Tuktut Nogait National Park, located northeast of Inuvik. Great Slave Lake's East Arm is currently under consideration as the NWT's fifth national park.


Local sporting organizations (for such sports as badminton, basketball, track and field, and volleyball) are popular in the territory, as are canoeing and kayaking.


Early English explorers who traveled the waterways of the NWT in search of a northwest passage included Sir Martin Frobisher (1539?–94) and Henry Hudson (d.1611). Famous early fur traders included Sir Alexander Mackenzie (b.Scotland, 1764–1820), who explored the Slave River and Great Slave Lake area, and American Peter Pond (1740–1807), who established the first trading post.

Nellie Joy Cournoyea (b.1940), from Aklavik, became the first woman head of government in Canada upon her 1991 election as government leader of the NWT. Ethel Blondin-Andrew (b.1951), from Fort Norman, became the first Native woman elected to the Canadian parliament, in 1988. Actress Margot Kidder (b.1948) is a native of Yellowknife.


Bumsted, J. M. The Peoples of Canada . New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Daitch, Richard W. Northwest Territories . Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1996.

Holmes, J. R. The Story of Fort Steuben. Steubenville, OH: Fort Steuben Press, 2000.

LeVert, Suzanne. Northwest Territories . Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001.

Moore, Christopher. The Big Book of Canada. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2002.

Roy, Geoffrey. North Canada: Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut: The Bradt Travel Guide. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot, 2000.

Weihs, Jean. Facts about Canada, Its Provinces and Territories . New York: H. W. Wilson, 1995.

Web sites

Goverment of Northwest Territories. (accessed on March 22, 2004).

Statistics Canada. (accessed on March 22, 2004).

Travel Canada: Northwest Territories. (accessed on March 22, 2004).

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