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Yellowknife opens up facilities in emergency clean-air measure

Grim air over Yellowknife on July 19, 2023. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio
Grim air over Yellowknife on July 19, 2023. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio


Beset by wildfire smoke, the City of Yellowknife on Wednesday pulled the emergency lever by opening up its fieldhouse track and playground for free.

The facility will be available to residents at no cost “when the local Air Quality Health Index is of 7 or greater,” the city wrote on Wednesday afternoon.

You can check the Air Quality Health Index for Yellowknife on Environment Canada’s website. At the time of writing, it was parked at 10+, the maximum rating on the scale and an indicator of hazardous air quality.

Air quality in Yellowknife has lately been, to quote most residents, gross. The same can be said of many other NWT communities, where thick and low-lying smoke has made outdoor exercise at best unappealing and at worst unhealthy.



Coupled with broiling heat in some parts of the territory, the smoke has left some residents with a choice between cooking themselves in sauna-like homes with the windows closed or being choked by whatever breeze they choose to let in.

Yellowknife’s decision to open up the fieldhouse – the track is ordinarily only accessible if you buy a pass from the city – is a measure only rarely contemplated.

The announcement will put longer-term residents in mind of 2014, when the city reached a similar decision as the NWT’s worst wildfire season in living memory hit its peak in early August. (This year’s season, for all that the air quality has been miserable and multiple evacuations have taken place, has yet to come near the same area burned as 2014 – but many weeks remain.)

“Community members will be notified when free access to these facilities is in effect via the city’s social media channels,” read a press release on Wednesday. (Right now, because the air quality is worse than the threshold, access is free.)

“This free access is being provided to encourage safe exercise for those at the greatest risk including children, elderly and at-risk populations, and is available to all residents.”

The city added its library also remains free for use as an escape from the smoke.