Opinion

Stronger Together: A Tale of Two Northern Cities

A very unique aurora display seen in Yellowknife.

This one time in Yellowknife…” is how a lot of my stories have been starting off lately. Whether it’s colleagues speculating that I’ve been travelling for GNWT interviews, or friends that are convinced I’m going to swap Grey Mountain for Great Slave Lake, it’s no secret that Yellowknife has caught my eye.

Travel and exploration are a fairly integral part of the Yukon lifestyle. Whether we’re cashing in our travel allowances for a weekend of southern city life, or driving down an old service road into the back country for hours, Yukoners like to explore. This is why I was caught by surprise at the hesitation of my friends to travel to the Northwest Territories last March.

By visiting and working together, we develop a better understanding of how to address our unique social issues. We learn more about the colonial impacts of our shared settlement history, and how First Nations are reclaiming land and culture. We grow our understanding of our distinct ecologies and how our communities are being impacted by climate change, and what our future has in store for the North.

It wasn’t that they weren’t interested; the thought had just never really come up. Some argued that if they were going to go travelling over a long weekend, they would go somewhere with more urban amenities to offer. Others were simply unaware of what there was to do in Yellowknife. Thankfully, an Air North seat sale was all I needed to convince my group, and we set off, Yukon flags and Starbucks mugs in tow.

Without knowing what to expect, or any plans really set, we remained optimistic about what we would find. The weekend in question was strategically chosen around Yellowknife’s Long John Jamboree and the final days of the famous Snowking’s Snowcastle. With a party theme set, my small band of Yukoners hit The Woodyard, Old Town’s brand new brew pub. After a few hours of tasting the craft varieties on tap and assessing how the local prices compare (spoiler: Yellowknife is more expensive than Whitehorse), we were getting restless and wanted to see more of what the nightlife had to offer. Standing in the entrance of the brew pub, my friend stopped a young guy, clearly bundling up for his walk home. “Hey!” she shouts. “We’re from Whitehorse! You want to show us around, don’t you?”

With a look of confusion and defeat, he responded, “Sure. I’m Mike by the way.” That was our first introduction to Yellowknife hospitality, and set the tone for how the trip would continue. People whose names I vaguely recognized from Twitter and various Northern publications became dancing partners in the Snowcastle, strangers I bonded with over the love of Joel Plaskett spontaneously invited me along to houseboat parties and paddle trips, and hardworking, outspoken feminists invited me into their creative circles, which I remain a part of today.

What I found was a city with a familiar reflection; a city that sits just north of the 60th parallel, with a bittersweet relationship to resource extraction, a unique set of social issues, and a vibrant community with boundless energy to create. I found a community with the same things that I love about Whitehorse: Young people who are grateful for the professional opportunities the North provides, who are flourishing within their disciplines, and making brilliant change. I found creatives who are making art around their distinct ideas and experiences, and developing a new understanding of what Northern art is and means. I found people with the same values and priorities, who have great respect for the environment, who are happy to live on less, and who contribute to their community.

Since my first trip to Yellowknife, I’ve since had the pleasure of hosting multiple ‘Knifers at my home in Whitehorse. The people I’ve met on my trips are equally as curious about their Northern neighbours, and want to explore the things that make us comparable cities, but also vastly different places to live. In fact, my roommate and I have hosted so many visitors, we sometimes refer to our house as the new Yellowknife Inn.

This is a trend that I hope continues. The reason I can’t stop talking about Yellowknife isn’t just because of all the fun and adventure it’s allowed me, but because there is an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the North. By visiting and working together, we develop a better understanding of how to address our unique social issues. We learn more about the colonial impacts of our shared settlement history, and how First Nations are reclaiming land and culture. We grow our understanding of our distinct ecologies and how our communities are being impacted by climate change, and what our future has in store for the North.

We also have a wonderful opportunity for collaboration. Technology and travel prices are reducing the barriers between cities, and Northerners have access to more creative spaces, ideas and people. We can create more holistic Northern policies and art by communicating. I think the popular phrase going around south of the border is ‘Stronger together’.

The North is a massive place, with immense natural and social diversity. In order to do better for our communities, we need to understand the different context and roles we experience. We are in an important era of access to one another, and by growing the relationship between these two fantastic cities, I believe that we can grow as Northerners.


Photo credit: istockphoto/HeatherECampbell

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