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Northwest Territories: History and People


The ancestors of the present day Dene peoples lived along the Mackenzie Valley in the N.W.T. 10 000 years ago. The first Inuit are believed to have crossed the Bering Strait about 5000 years ago, spreading east along the Arctic coast. In 1789, Alexander Mackenzie 'discovered' the Mackenzie River and followed it to its mouth at the Arctic Ocean. Fur traders soon established posts in the Mackenzie River basin. Late in the next century religious missions were founded in the area. The Europeans reshaped the North bringing with them a new economy and way of life. Through the following years communities grew around trading posts, mission schools and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) stations.

In 1870, the British government transferred control of the North-Western Territory to Canada. Ten years later the British government annexed the islands of the Arctic Archipelago that also became part of the North West Territories.

In 1905, both Alberta and Saskatchewan were created from the Northwest Territories landbase. Finally in 1912, the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec were enlarged, fixing the Northwest Territories with a size and shape that remained unchanged until 1999, when Nunavut was established. By World War II, mineral exploration and the military were playing a role in northern development, prompting a more active interest in the N.W.T. by the rest of Canada.

The People

The present population of the N.W.T. is approximately 40 000 Dene, Inuvialuit and Métis make up 48%, non-Aboriginals about 52%. Most live in small communities; Yellowknife, the capital, has a population of more than 15 000.

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