Northwest Territories

November 28, 2012 6:36 am

Imagine a cold northern land where there are more caribou than people. Giant piles of stones in the shape of people, called Inukshuk, dot the treeless plains. Built by native people known as the Inuit, these stone figures have been used as landmarks for centuries.
Can you imagine such a place? Then you have an idea what ’s Northwest Territories is like!
Facts About the Northwest Territories
42,600 people
Rank among provinces and territories in population
Major cities
Yellowknife, Hay River
520,000 square miles
1,350,000 square kilometers
Rank among provinces and territories in area
Entry into federation
July 15, 1870
Provincial bird
Provincial flower
Mountain Avens
The Northwest Territories is in northwestern Canada. In the south, it touches the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. In the north, it reaches all the way to the North Pole and includes some large islands in the Arctic Ocean.
All this land makes the Northwest Territories a big place. In fact, it’s about as big as the states of Texas, California, and Oregon combined. Yet the Northwest Territories is not nearly as large as it was when it became a part of Canada in 1870. Over time, it gradually shrank as some of its land was given to other provinces.
Then, on April 1, 1999, the Canadian government split the Northwest Territories into two parts. The bigger part in the east became the new territory of Nunavut. The western part is what remains of the Northwest Territories.
While large in size, the Northwest Territories has very few people. In 2007, just 42,600 people lived there.
The Northwest Territories is so cold that most of its land is frozen all year round. Such land is called permafrost, and it makes farming virtually impossible.
Because of the permafrost, most houses in the Northwest Territories don’t have basements. Instead, they have stilts! The stilts keep the houses off the ground. That way, when the houses are heated, there’s no chance of the ground below them melting!
In the far north are the Arctic lands of the Northwest Territories. They include the islands inside the Arctic Circle, the area around the North Pole. It’s so cold there that hardly any trees will grow.
Because it’s so far north, the Northwest Territories has long summer days and long winter nights. During winter, amazing streaks of color called the northern lights, or aurora borealis, sometimes glow in the night sky.
Beginning in the late 1400s, European sailors began looking for a Northwest Passage. They were hoping to find a northern water route that would allow them to sail through or around North America.
For centuries, sailors searched for a way through the icy seas and narrow channels of the Arctic region of the Northwest Territories. Sometimes, they captured and ate caribou, musk ox, moose, and other native animals living on the mainland and many islands.
Despite numerous efforts, no one succeeded in sailing all the way through the passage until 1906. That year, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen finally made it.
European fur traders began arriving in the Northwest Territories in the late 1700s. By the early 1800s, fur traders and prospectors searching for gold began settling in the region.
Fur-trading posts were set up along the Mackenzie, Canada’s longest river. The beaver pelts from this cold land were thicker than those found in warmer areas to the south, so fur traders could charge top prices for their pelts. The fur trade still goes on today in the Northwest Territories, though it’s not as important as it once was.
Over time, contact between native people in the area and the outside world increased. Missionaries went to the Northwest Territories to convert native people to Christianity.
Today, native people make up about 50 percent of the population in the Northwest Territories. Many still live off the land, hunting wild animals or catching fish.
The Northwest Territories has nine official languages. Seven come from the native people. The other two are French and English. The Northwest Territories has more official languages than any other province or territory in Canada!
Yellowknife is the capital and biggest city of the Northwest Territories. Almost half of the territory’s entire population lives there.
Yellowknife is located on the north shore of Great Slave Lake, the deepest lake in North America. The Mackenzie River flows from the lake. The lake got its name from the Slavey, a native people who live nearby.
In summer, supplies are ferried into Yellowknife on the Mackenzie River. But in winter the river freezes over. Then, supplies are trucked in or flown in on small bush planes. Bush pilots are important for transportation throughout the territory.
Where did Yellowknife get its name? Europeans first gave the name to a native people who once lived in the area. They were known for making yellow knife blades hammered out of copper.
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