The Northwest Territories make up Canada’s largest continuous landmass and contain much of the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole (both magnetic and true north). As one of three territories administered directly from Ottawa, the Northwest Territories (or NWT) became part of Confederation in 1870, although its present borders were created in 1999 with the formation of the Nunavut Territories to the east.
With just over 41,000 inhabitants, the NWT is largely a wild and unforgiving place, although in recent years eco-tourism to this unexplored part of the world has been increasing. The Northwest Territories’ capital is Yellowknife, with a population of just under 20,000 people, or half of the population of the territories.
The NWT are home to some of the most isolated and jaw-dropping natural scenery in the world. During the winter ice chokes up the oceans, creating a near-continuous ice bridge to Greenland. In recent years, with global temperatures shifting, the famed “North West Passage” has opened up, allowing some marine traffic to circumnavigate the top of the world. This has created political tension among the nations who share the Arctic, and Canada, with the greatest claim on Arctic sovereignity, has been at the forefront of ensuring the region stays Canadian. Military bases and the construction of several new-age ice-breaker warships are helping to ensure the NWT and the surrounding waters stay Canadian.
The Northwest Territories are home the Great Slave Lake, the deepest body of water in North America, as well as the Nahanni National Park Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. With such a large land mass, temperatures in the far Arctic north differ widely from those in the south. Temperatures around Yellowknife average +12 C in the summer and -31 C in winter, while in the north it is +3 C in the summer and -40 C in the winter!
The Northwest Territories are made up of at least 11 different ethnic groups, all with their own languages and customs. As a result, their are 11 official languages in the NWT, including English, French, Cree, Inuktitut, Slavey and a host of others.
The NWT are opening up as technology and climate shift allows for better exploration and extraction of natural resources. It is estimated that a third of the world’s oil supply lies frozen beneath the NWT, one reason Russia, the USA, Denmark and Canada all lay claim to the area (it is interesting to note that before global warming caused ice to melt, all of these countries recognized the NWT and surrounding ocean as part of Canada. Now that the ice is melting and resources are being found, they are all claiming the NWT for themselves). In addition to oil, massive deposits of uranium, copper, zinc, gold and, most recently, diamonds have been discovered. Northwest Territory diamonds are being marketed around the world today as an alternative to African blood diamonds, and diamond revenues have caused a whole boom industry to flourish throughout the territories.
Whatever the reason for visiting the Northwest Territories, nobody comes home the same way. From the spectacular high Arctic geography to the tense politics of international rights, and the abundance of rare wildlife to the high-paying resource jobs, the NWT are sure to amaze everyone.