Yellowknife begins helping wildfire evacuees

Last modified: May 16, 2023 at 8:29am

The City of Yellowknife’s municipal multiplex has been converted into a makeshift home for wildfire evacuees.

On Monday afternoon, the city reminded evacuees to register with the NWT Health and Social Services Authority at the multiplex, which is currently operating as a shelter for evacuees. The multiplex will be closed to the public until further notice.

The facility, usually home to the likes of hockey and speed skating, had only just finished hosting Yellowknife’s annual spring trade show. Hundreds of cots have already been moved in to replace those booths.


Around 4,000 residents of Hay River and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation, on the other side of Great Slave Lake, have been ordered to leave their homes. Yellowknife is the designated destination for anyone needing shelter.

“The city is once again ready, willing and able to help our neighbours in their time of need,” said Mayor Rebecca Alty in a news release. “We are grateful to everyone who delivers supports and services to provide the residents of Hay River and Kátł’odeeche First Nation with a home away from home.”

Staff worked through the night, needing four to six hours to set everything up, before evacuees began arriving.

While the city is responsible for the cots, the territorial government’s Department of Municipal and Community Affairs tracks arriving evacuees and makes sure they can access the help they need.

The operation isn’t new. Exactly the same thing happened at almost exactly the same time last year, for the same community – except back then, flooding was the problem.


A city employee working to set up the facility late on Sunday said one lesson learned from that year is the number of evacuees who need to use the multiplex.

Many evacuees have friends and relatives they can lean on for support, the worker said, and fewer people than anticipated last year ended up using the multiplex for any length of time.

Even so, there will be plenty of people who have no other option, particularly given the extraordinarily short notice offered on Sunday. A wildfire that hadn’t existed when the day began was reported to have reached homes in the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and triggered a major evacuation by the end of the day. Residents in Hay River were only told to leave at 11pm.

More: Timeline, photos and video: KFN and Hay River wildfire


The five or six-hour drive meant evacuees were expected to begin arriving in Yellowknife before 6am on Monday. Some may have chosen alternative accommodation in communities like Fort Smith, Enterprise or Fort Providence. One usual sanctuary, High Level and northern Alberta, is experiencing severe wildfires itself.

Yellowknifers were using the overnight lull before their arrival to organize.

Tom McLennan used a Facebook group for evacuees to ask residents with available space to sign up on a Google form. McLennan said he would use the information to help match up evacuees with people who can host them.

On Monday, the city told individuals looking to make cash donations to use the United Way NWT’s fundraiser.

Meanwhile, businesses looking to help can contact the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce at