Northern Public Affairs

GNWT@45: Government Arrives in Yellowknife September 18, 1967

Editor’s note: To mark the forty-fifth anniversary of “home rule” in the Northwest Territories, Northern Public Affairs presents a series on the transfer of administrative control from Ottawa to Yellowknife in 1967.
 
[dropcap_1]T[/dropcap_1]he Government of the Northwest Territories landed to great fanfare in Yellowknife on September 18, 1967. Arriving on two chartered D7s – one loaded with public servants, the other with thirty tonnes of books and documents – the new government was greeted with a red carpet, 1000 well-wishers, and greetings from NWT Commissioner Stuart M. Hodgson. “At last,” he proclaimed, “we are home!”
 
The arrival of the GNWT in Yellowknife followed several years of political deliberation and negotiation. Central to this debate was the Advisory Commission on the Development of Government in the Northwest Territories, commonly known as the Carrothers Commission. It was chaired by A.W.R. Carrothers, Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Western Ontario. He was joined on the Commission by Jean Beetz, a Montreal lawyer and future justice of the Supreme Court of Canada; and John H. Parker, mayor of Yellowknife and future Commissioner of the Northwest Territories.
 
The Commission set out to do something that had never been done before in Northern Canada: listen to the views of as many Northerners as possible, in their own communities. Over the course of 1965-1966, the Commission held hearings from Akalvik to Fort Smith, and Yellowknife to Frobisher Bay. It accepted submissions from across Canada, asking both northern and southern Canadians their opinions on the shape and structure of the Government of the Northwest Territories, the location of the capital, and whether the Mackenzie District should be divided from the Keewatin and Franklin districts (now Nunavut).
 
Debate raged in newspapers, including the News of the North (Yellowknife), The Norther (Fort Smith), Tapwe (Hay River), and The Pine Pointer (Pine Point), on the street, and before the Commission. Major fault lines grew between those who preferred Yellowknife or Fort Smith as capital (the economic viability of these communities with or without government jobs was key), the division of East from West, or whether the NWT should be absorbed into the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Quebec.
 
The Carrothers Commission tabled its final report in the House of Commons on October 5, 1966. Its main recommendations were to maintain the NWT as a single jurisdiction; increase the size of the new legislative assembly to eighteen – fourteen elected and four appointed by the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs; work towards the implementation of full responsible government; and to place the capital at Yellowknife. Following several months delay, the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations began in early 1967.
 
One of the first steps was to announce to the residents of the Northwest Territories that their new capital was Yellowknife. Below is a letter to Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson from the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Arthur Laing, outlining his deicision to accept the Commission’s recommendation of Yellowknife as capital.
 
In his speech at Yellowknife, the Minister said:
[blockquote]I have given a great deal of thought to the advice received on the question of a Territorial capital. Among other things, I have considered a Report, a Resolution, a map and a calendar. The calendar is particularly significant. I consider it important that immediate action be taken to move the seat of the Government of the Territoires to the north.
 

 
The above considered and many other things as well, I have recommended to my Colleagues, and they have agreed, the location of the capital at Yellowknife. The Carrothers Commissions weighed carefully and honestly the many alternatives. Their recommendation must be given considerable weight…The map of the north that most of you have on your walls indicates that Yellowknife, in respect of a good representation of Territorial conditions (being on the tree line on the edge of the Canadian Shield) and in respect to transportation routes, and in respect of its existing development, and in respect of population factors, and in respect of absolute geographical location, is the best choice to be made.
 

 
I know that many people in Fort Smith will be disappointed. I do not think the future of any settlement in the Northwest Territories is a black future. Fort Smith is in a very fine location in the sense of pleasant surroundings and amenities and it will be my advice as along as such matters are under my control, that institutions of both Federal and Territorial Government should be located there whenever that is at all feasible.[/blockquote]
The federal government announced over the Summer of 1967 that the Government of the Northwest Territories would be in place at Yellowknife by the Fall. According to Zaslow (1988), “in 1966-67, twenty-four houses and an apartment building were completed for some of the incoming staff while work proceeded on a five-story headquarters building. In the interim, ‘private homes, the curling club, a partially used school and a bowling alley’ were pressed into service as temporary government offices.” With the arrival of GNWT in Yellowknife, a new chapter began in the political evolution of the Northwest Territories.

Laing Letter

In the coming days, Northern Public Affairs will features voices from the Commission, including its hearings at Fort Smith, Yellowknife, and Aklavik.
 
Source: Library and Archives Canada.

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  • Nick Falvo

    Terrific post, Jerry!