‘Selfie sightlines’ and aurora icons in new YK signage plan

Draft versions of signs presented in a wayfinding document drawn up for the City of Yellowknife
Draft versions of signs presented in a wayfinding document drawn up for the City of Yellowknife.

Yellowknife is planning a revamped signage system for the city as part of broader “wayfinding” updates at a projected cost of just under $250,000 over five years.

The plan attempts to tie together a previously fragmented approach to signage, including new designs that are easier to read, employ a simpler layout, and use new “Extraordinary Yellowknife” branding.

Prepared by independent consultants, the draft strategy – which councillors have yet to approve – recommends the City of Yellowknife and Yellowknives Dene work together to incorporate Indigenous-language place names and descriptions.

Beyond signs, the plan calls more broadly for the City to develop an “interactive wayfinding website” and make more use of foreign languages in online and printed materials, to help tourists.



We were talking about having Wi-Fi throughout the city … I’m serious about exploring the idea of having some kind of Wi-Fi hotspot set up.COUNCILLOR JULIAN MORSE

However, the consultants acknowledged they had been surprised by the level of support for paper-based navigation, over cellphones, in consultations while writing the strategy.

“Between the electronic way of communicating and wayfinding versus the good old paper way, paper was definitely king,” consultant Karen LeGresley Hamre told city councillors on Monday.

“I think we all found that quite surprising. We assumed that, in this day and age, people would be using apps more on their phones and things like that. But for various reasons – roaming [costs], language, and all sorts of things, really – people were relying a lot more on paper.”



Fellow consultant Eileen Finn said: “Most tourists don’t rely on their cellphones and may have challenges with their battery life – may have challenges operating in cold, cold weather. So we didn’t want that to be the the hook that everything’s hanging on.”

For more than a decade, City Hall has had an ambition to revisit the way signs and other supports help people get around Yellowknife.

The draft strategy leaves existing signs in place if they are serving a purpose, but identifies a range of signs that need replacing and urges the addition of new signs in other locations.

A system of signs set out in the strategy includes three prominent welcome signs: the existing Bristol Monument welcome sign would, if the plan goes ahead, be joined by large signs at Yellowknife Airport and at the Dettah Ice Road entrance next to Rotary Park.

The consultants say the area surrounding the Bristol Monument welcome sign should also be reshaped to provide “places to put a camera, easier access, and better sightlines for a ‘selfie spot.'”

A suggested 'aurora pictogram' from a draft wayfinding strategy presented to Yellowknife city councillors

The system also includes signs denoting trails and places of interest, and a revamped approach to more day-to-day signage helping people get around town.

Also suggested is an “aurora pictogram” unique to Yellowknife (pictured above) – an icon depicting areas where people are likely to get good views of the northern lights.

City-wide Wi-Fi too?

City councillors will need to approve the strategy in order for staff to go ahead with implementing the changes.



“It’s about tying together so much of this previous work that’s been done, building on the existing amenities that are out there … so that it works more strongly as a whole,” Finn told council.

“It’s about improving how people move through space and deepening people’s knowledge of the area. I think that is important for both visitors and for locals.”

The work as set out in the project is forecast to cost $42,800 in its first year, followed by a total of just under $200,000 in the following four years.

Most councillors were pleased with the strategy’s basic tenets and its overall approach.

“I’m really happy to see all the recommendations related to helping tourists find their way around. I really do think that’s a key thing we could be doing better,” said Councillor Julian Morse, who told colleagues he believes Yellowknife should offer city-wide Wi-Fi for locals and visitors.

In its failed bid for federal cash to pay for “smart streetlights” last year, the City of Yellowknife had suggested those lightposts could offer a Wi-Fi network. Referring to that plan, Morse said: “We were talking about having Wi-Fi throughout the city, which I think for tourists would have been extremely well appreciated, but we’re not doing that.

“I’m serious about exploring the idea of having some kind of Wi-Fi hotspot set up. Maybe we could do a kind of corporate sponsorship … people expect to find Wi-Fi hotspots when they’re touring around. We don’t really have many of them in the city, and that prevents tourists from from using their phones.”

Morse also suggested the City could do a better job of helping out commuters, particularly cyclists, saying signage is lacking. He gave the example of multi-use trails, where pedestrians may not realize bikes are allowed, and cyclists may not know which bike routes to follow once they leave the multi-use trail.



Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the city administrator, said staff would try to factor those concerns into their implementation plan if the broader strategy is given the go-ahead by council.

‘Obvious errors’

Only Councillor Robin Williams appeared unconvinced by the draft strategy. Williams attacked the plan in unusually strong terms on several occasions during Monday’s meeting,

Highlighting typos and what he felt were missing references to local places of note, Williams told the consultants: “There are so many omissions and so many mistakes in the document itself.”

“If we were to base all of what we’re going to do for our wayfinding strategy – this thing that we’ve been talking about for so many years – on a document that has obvious errors in it, that’s where my issue is,” said Williams.

“I don’t know why I’m the only one who thinks this could be a problem.”

Gently countering, the consultants acknowledged the draft contained typos but said some of Williams’ concerns relating to omissions were more questions about what type of sign should go where.

“I think we’ve gone from a high level view, which is where I like to be, to the weeds today,” said Councillor Niels Konge at that point. Konge said the detail of individual sign placement should be left to staff once council has given the overall go-ahead.

The plan will come forward for formal approval at a future council meeting.