Air North held a ceremony at Yellowknife Airport this week to mark the first direct scheduled passenger service between Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Toronto.
While reasons to leave the North for Toronto are not obvious, many northerners have family in the region. For tour operators, the reverse journey – bringing Ontario residents to the NWT – is particularly attractive.
“We’re really excited about this new route,” said NWT Tourism’s Joel Walton at the Tuesday ceremony.
“Toronto is a huge market for tourism into the NWT. A lot of people don’t realize it’s the most engaged market that we actually have, domestically. So it’s huge for us to get a direct connection.
“We really hope that travellers and visitors to the territory can fill these seats, and northerners can fill these seats, so we see this route stay on into 2023 and beyond.”
Air North has previously operated direct flights between Ottawa and the North, but not Toronto. Ordinarily, flying between Toronto and the NWT requires a multiple-flight slog through Alberta.
NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane, happening to require transport back from Whitehorse to Yellowknife on the day of the historic flight, disembarked at the last possible moment before it became historic.
“It’s really good for the territories,” Cochrane said on arrival back in Yellowknife from a northern premiers’ forum.
Cochrane said the route demonstrated faith in the economic health of the territory, and that it was “time to take chances, take risks, and invest in the North again.”
The route, announced in November, will be operational until early October this year.
Flights depart Yellowknife for Toronto at 11:30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, arriving in Toronto at 5:40pm.
Return flights depart Toronto on Wednesdays and Fridays at 10:45am, arriving in Yellowknife at 1:25pm before heading on to Whitehorse.
Air North’s president, Joe Sparling, was at the controls of the inaugural flight as it departed Whitehorse on Tuesday.
In a news release, Sparling said the route would “keep families connected, open doors to educational and sports opportunities for our youth, make tourism and cultural experiences available to many more Canadians, and serve as an invaluable economic link.”
“I hope everybody has a safe flight, wherever you’re going,” said Bobby Drygeese, representing the Yellowknives Dene First Nation at Tuesday’s Yellowknife ceremony.
He added: “I hope your arms don’t get too tired.”