This year started with vaccine clinics in smaller NWT communities, saw severe flooding in the spring, welcomed the loosening of restrictions in the summer, and had a new road open to Whatì in the winter.
Weather records were broken, demonstrations over human rights injustices were held, and Covid-19 continued. This is an insufficient summary of the year, of course.
Plenty more happened, but we don’t have room for the thousands of photos we took in this story – so here’s a small sample that reflect this year in the Northwest Territories.
Wekweètì, January 13
The Tłı̨chǫ community of Wekweètì held its first Covid-19 vaccine clinic on January 13, inviting all eligible residents over the age of 18 to get inoculated against the coronavirus responsible for the disease. The fly-in community was one of the first in the territory and the Tłı̨chǫ region to receive the vaccine.
Yellowknife, February 6
Saturday, February 6 dipped to -45.4C without wind chill. An extreme cold warning had been issued. Jescinda Cullihall and Josh Powell awoke in Yellowknife on their wedding day to discover the capital of the Northwest Territories was enduring its coldest day in more than a decade.
Tsu Lake, February
A rotating circle of ice thought to be around 200 metres in diameter appeared on a lake north of Fort Smith – possibly the largest such circle ever documented. Ice circles are an unusual natural phenomenon whereby circular slabs of ice begin to spin in the middle of lakes and rivers, ordinarily sculpted by the force of nearby eddy currents.
Nechalacho, April 19
Nechalacho, the NWT’s first new metals mine in decades, is 100 km east of Yellowknife and is the first Canadian producer of rare earth elements – minerals that, in small quantities, power key parts of vehicles (especially electric vehicles) and various green technologies. Its owners envisage a model of smaller-scale mining, Indigenous involvement, and environmental responsibility.
Yellowknife, April 21
This year marked the first full year of the Covid-19 pandemic. As the virus evolved, the NWT’s chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, was at the forefront – attempting to offer reassurance, encourage vaccination, and update restrictions.
Pump Lake, April 23
In a Facebook post, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) shared a photo of wasted caribou spotted on Pump Lake near Aklavik – not the first time such an incident was reported in 2021. Ken Kyikavichik, the Grand Chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, said “irresponsible harvesters” should be reported. Population figures published in December indicate some herds, like the Bathurst caribou, continue to decline in numbers, while other herds have seen small increases.
Fort Simpson, May 8
Communities in the NWT’s Dehcho region experienced severe flooding this spring. Damage to Fort Simpson, pictured, is estimated to cost well over $5 million. Jean Marie River was completely evacuated, Hay River’s Vale Island residents were ordered to evacuate, and a state of emergency was delcared in Fort Good Hope due to flooding.
Fort Smith, June 19
In May, Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in BC announced the bodies of 215 children had been found buried at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School site. Since then, First Nations across the country have discovered more children buried in unmarked graves. In memory of these children who never came home, shoes and stuffed animals were left on the steps of churches and sites of residential schools.
Yellowknife, July 18
The three-day Folk on the Rocks festival in Yellowknife was the territory’s first major in-person event since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Thousands of people attended the site over the weekend – and no Covid-19 cases were connected to the event.
Artists of all ages and backgrounds spent hours each day in tents beside the Yellowknife Fieldhouse in August, sketching images onto large wood panels before bringing the pieces to life with paint. The Strong People, Strong Communities mural-painting festival showcased Indigenous strength through a series of murals which have since been installed in Yellowknife, Dettah, and Ndilǫ.
Yellowknife, October 4
Health minister Julie Green said her government planned to convert the former Legion building – on the corner of Franklin Avenue and 48 Street – into a day shelter this winter. In an open letter, she asked residents not to impede the planned facility by appealing against it, which they immediately did. The temporary shelter ultimately didn’t go ahead in the Aurora Village downtown location, and instead opened on the site of Yellowknife’s former visitors’ centre in December.
Inuvik, November 27
Inuvik’s fire chief said back-to-back fires at the town’s warming shelter were not suspicious in nature. Within two days, NWT’s housing and homelessness minister said the search has begun for government buildings that can act as shelters. Until a suitable location is found, people who would normally use that shelter are able to use a separate shelter on Berger Street.
Whatì, November 30
Highway 9, connecting Whatì to Highway 3, opened to traffic on November 30. Previously, travel to and from Whatì – home to around 530 people – was restricted to flights or a winter ice road. The community hopes the road will create opportunities and lower the cost of living.
Yellowknife, December 5
One of the world’s largest cargo aircraft landed in Yellowknife on December 5, carrying a South Korean attack helicopter that will undergo 10 weeks of winter testing around the city. The arrival of the helicopter is considered a boon for the city’s economy. The territorial government forecasts a $2-million injection of capital to hotels, restaurants, and related industries from some 40 pilots, engineers, and support staff over two months.