Queen Elizabeth II, who has passed away at the age of 96, visited the Northwest Territories in 1970 and again in 1994.
Her first trip to the territory celebrated the NWT’s centennial, the 100th anniversary of the Hudson’s Bay Company transferring an area renamed the North-West Territories to the Dominion of Canada.
The Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and other members of the royal delegation took in a range of northern locations during their 1970 tour: Iqaluit, Resolute, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Yellowknife, Fort Smith and lastly Fort Providence, where a centennial celebration canoe race along the Mackenzie River began.
Up Here Magazine, in a survey of the Queen’s northern trips for her 90th birthday, called the 1970 visit a “not-so-veiled exercise in Arctic sovereignty following the controversial crossing of the Northwest Passage by the American SS Manhattan tanker the previous summer.”
In 1994, the Queen visited Yellowknife, Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit. In the NWT capital, she appeared at a ceremony for the newly built Legislative Assembly building.
Bill Erasmus, Dene national chief at the time, told the Queen during the visit that the federal government had not honoured Canada’s treaties with Indigenous peoples.
“It was very important for us to reconnect and to remind the Crown of the original provisions, the obligations, the promises and the spirit and intent behind the original treaties,” Erasmus later told The Canadian Press.
The NWT Archives maintains online access to a trove of hundreds of photographs that document the 1970 trip through the eyes of pre-eminent territorial photographers like Rene Fumoleau.
In 2020, CTV News shared a minute-long compilation of television footage from the royals’ 1970 visit.
A decade ago, Peter Jenkins – who described being a 15-year-old boy at the time of the Queen’s 1970 Yellowknife visit – uploaded a video slideshow of his images from the tour.
The Queen’s 1994 trip was filmed by Henry Tenby, who now runs an aviation YouTube channel but was then a Yellowknife resident following the throngs of people who lined the highway from the airport.
Tenby posted an extensive collection of footage from the trip to YouTube in 2020.
Earlier this year, the man now known as King Charles visited the Northwest Territories with wife Camilla, spending five hours in Yellowknife and Dettah.
“It has been a long time since the royal family came to Dettah,” Chief Fred Sangris told Cabin Radio during the May visit of Charles and Camilla.
“I was just a junior, I was still going to school,” he said of the Queen’s 1970 visit. “Eddie [Chief Edward Sangris] was a little older than me and his father was chief when Queen Elizabeth came here with the family.
“The last time Prince Charles was here, there were a lot of old log homes. Today, you look at it and there are different homes, we got a facelift over the years. We’ve done a lot of good work and I’m sure he will come and look and probably be surprised at the changes in the last 50 years, 45 years or something.”
“Oh yes, yes,” Chief Sangris said that day of the possibility for good to come of the trip. “It’s that time of year for us to talk to the prince on our dreams and our goals. So that’s key.”
One final image in the NWT Archives’ collection demonstrates the lasting presence of the Queen in the North as colonial Canada’s head of state.
An image dated to 1959 – seven years after the Queen acceded to the throne – shows people inside a home in Whatì. Dimly visible hanging on a wall in the background? A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II.
“As the longest-ruling monarch in British history, Her Majesty is a well-known and beloved figure who has spent her life helping young people and supporting causes related to wildlife and the environment,” Premier Caroline Cochrane said in a tribute on Thursday.
“The impact the Queen has had on the Commonwealth and the world as a whole cannot be measured. The legacy she has left will be remembered for generations as a reminder of what true dedication to service looks like.”