THE HIGH ARCTIC
DAY TWO - YELLOWKNIFE HISTORY
So while you admire some more houseboats, with Jolliffe Island - named presumably for the geologist Dr. Alfred Jolliffe who surveyed the area in the 1930s - in the background, I can tell you a little about the history of the town.
The area has been occupied for as long as history can show, by First-Nation Canadians such as the Dene and Chipewayan peoples.
There seems to be little doubt that the courreurs de bois - the roving Francophone trappers and hunters - reached this far during the glory days of the Nouvelle France Empire, but the first recorded European to reach here was Samuel Hearne on his great trek to the Arctic coast on behalf of the Hudson's Bay Company. His description of "Lake Athapuscow" seems to match that of the Great Slave Lake.
Contact between the indigenous people and the Hudson's Bay Company led to the creation of Fort Resolution in 1819 - described by George Back as
"a house with a few miserable stockades in front"
- on the south shore of the lake.
This fort became famous because of the role that it played in the ill-fated First Franklin Expedition when Sir John Franklin ate his boots and his men ate each other.
Accompanying Franklin on this expedition was a young British naval officer called George Hood who was also a talented artist. Some of his drawings clearly show features around what is today the city of Yellowknife
Fort Resolution didn't last long. It closed down in 1823. And that was really the last official kind of contact that Europeans had with the area for several generations.
The area next enters into recorded history in 1898. A gold prospector named Blakeney, on his way to the Klondyke, casually panning by the waterside, discovered traces of gold here.
That would ordinarily have been the signal for a mad stampede but at that moment Gold Fever in the Klondyke was at its height and everyone and everything was headed that way. There wasn't anything left to supply this area, which was well off the beaten track.
After the end of World War I and with hundreds of trained pilots and war-surplus planes appearing on the market, the aerial exploration of the North began. And in 1929 this area was chosen to be the site of a fuel cache for the pilots and their planes.
This provided the impetus for a further wave of exploration in the vicinity.
In 1933, two explorers called Herb Dixon and Johnny Baker, paddling their own canoe down the river, discovered gold at Quyta Lake and Homer Lake, followed in 1934 by Johnny Baker discovering gold on the eastern side of the bay.
Baker's discovery led to the establishment of the Burwash Mine, shortly followed by the Con and the Negus Mines, and that was the start of what became the urbanisation of the area.
By 1940 there were about 1,000 people living here.
One of the most famous roads in the town is called Ragged Ass Road.
The story goes that at the very beginning of settlement of the area in the late 1930s, access to the waterfront properties was by water. What is now known as Ragged Ass Road was the rear limit of the properties.
It was against this line that all of the outside toilets of the residents were situated, and hence the name.
However there are some people who reckon that this story is at best apocryphal. They prefer to quote the story put around by the Town Council which doesn't mention anything so vulgar.
This was that when the town was surveyed and divided into regular rectangular lots with a typical straight-line street, the locals simply igonred it. And every time the Council re-surveyed it, the residents still ignored it.
Eventually the Council gave in. They re-surveyed the area and drew the boundaries to reflect the reality rather than the ideaL
As an aside, another famous street in the town is Lois Lane. In case you haven't guessed, one of the houses in the street was for a number of years the home of the actress Margaret (Margot) Kidder.
Unfortunately, we didn't end up down there
You will be as excited as I am by the amount of abandoned equipment that's just lying around all over the place.
And here in the Woodyard, there have been people intent on making the most of whatever they find. We have some very artistic ... well ... sculptures, I suppose made out of the discarded material, like these old pneumatic mining drills stuck into the rock.
And while it looks quite interesting, it all reflects a very sad tale.
It was good news for the town that it became the home for all of the Government offices of the Northwest Territories, because otherwise its future mght have been quite bleak.
Nothing lasts for ever and that was certainly true of the gold mines. They gradually became exhausted and closed down - not helped in any way by an act of terrorism in 1992 in which a disgruntled employee planted a bomb in the "Giant" Mine and killed 9 workers
Diamonds have subsequently been discovered but these mines are a good way out of town.
With the closure of the mines, there was a lot of redundant equipment. We've seen plenty of it and here's an old Ingersoll Rand air compressor, presumably the one that powered the air tools lying around here, lying in the undergrowth.
The fact is that it wasn't until recently that there was an all-weather road, the Mackenzie Highway, all the way up to Yellowknife.
Prior to that, everything that came in was either flown or sailed in, and that kind of thing comes at a price. Cargo space is expensive and it's just not worth paying the freight charges to ship out any old and worn equipment that only has a very limited second-hand value.
And so it was simply abandoned where it lay.
Talking of the Giant Mine, as indeed we were just now, this wheeled tanker lying abandoned outside the Gallery of The Midnight Sun is of considerable interest.
The Giant Mine, like many other industrial locations in isolated places, had its own fire fighting department and this tanker is said to have been part of their equipment.
History doesn't record how it was moved about from one place to another. It wouldn't have been by horse of course. Not up here. So it was presumably hauled behing a mobile pump. Unless by a herd of reindeer, or even a pack of moose.
By now the afternoon was well advanced. And our little group of people had whittled itself down to just two of us.
On my travels earler I had heard that here in Yellowknife there was a museum of local life amongst the indigenous people, and so we headed off across town to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.
The first thing that caught my eye was a caribou. At least - I think that it's a caribou. I've never seen one before.
Caribou are the food supply of the indigenous people and of the Arctic explorers. And when the herd migrations go wrong, it can lead to disaster, as Jack Hornby, one of my fellow townspeople from Nantwich, would testify had he managed to find anything else to eat.
I do have my usual travelling companion, Strawberry Moose, with me on this trip.
But he's in the suitcase back in the hotel. I should have brought him with me to see this Monarch of the Glen. He would probably have quite enjoyed the visit.
But then, as you know, he's been with me on several occasions when we've seen real moose, and he's hoping that we'll see some more on this voyage. He would find that much more exciting.
But this is what I considered to be the most exciting exhibit.
The girl who had come with me was interested in a stuffed musk-ox that was on display, but I left her to it while I went over to have a good look at the stuffed polar bear.
Never mind moose - I'm hoping to see a few polar bear on my travels too, although maybe not as close as I am to this particular one.
The most interesting exhibit though was this umiak, or Inuit freight canoe.
100 years ago you would have seen dozens of these floating around carrying the family, all of their possessions and a pile of sealskins for trade. Today though, the metal boat and the outboard motor are all the rage.
It's tempting though to see the parallel between the Inuit use of the umiak and the kayak and the Norse use of the knarr and the longboat in similar circumstances and under similar conditions.
There can't surely be any doubt that the Inuit and the Norse had some kind of exchange of culture and technology during the Norse occupation of Greenland, and it's difficult to believe that there is no trace of any Norse DNA in the Thule or current Inuit.
It still seems to be quite logical to me that as the ice closed in at the start of the Little Ice Age and the Norse Greenland communities came under pressure from the Inuit migrating from the north, the two commuities would have merged together in order to make the best of what each community had to offer in order to better-confront the climatic difficulties.
This would inevitably have led to some rather close encounters that ought to have left their mark in the DNA admixture of the current population of the Frozen North.
The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is situated in a very beautiful location on the edge of the city in a small park, in the same area where the Parliament of the Northwest Territories is situated.
From outside the museum we could admire the Government Offices in all their glory, across the park in the evening sunshine.
This isn't the kind of traditional view that you would associate with life on the tundra so close to the Arctic Circle. It could be in any capital city in almost any country in the world and it's a sad reflection on the state of the world and the pervasive globalisation that is creeping over everywhere.
An evening meal had been arranged for us at the hotel across the road. But when we arrived there we found that it had been put back by half an hour.
That left us with plenty of time on our hands.
There is a beautiful lake, the Niven Lake, at the back of that hotel which looked very inviting so we went for a walk. And I don't seem to have taken any photos of the lake or of our walk.
That doesn't sound right to me. I must have been very distracted indeed by the presence of my companion.
We had a nice buffet for the evening meal, with plenty of choice even for me. And doesn't that make a nice change from the usual ... "said he, being totally unaware of what was to yet to come" - ed?
And after tea, we were entertained by a group of Inuit throat musicians giving a fine demonstration of their art. That was a certainly different way to spend an evening.
The entertainment was interrupted by an announcement from the leader of our trip. He told us that with a change in the direction of the wind we are going to try to go further on tomorrow.
However he didn't actually say to where. I don't think that he has much of an idea and it's going to be a case of pot luck. - wherever the aeroplane can land, I imagine.
But wherever we are going to go, it means leaving the hotel at 05:00 and so there will be an alarm call at 04:00.
With that news beating down on us, off we all traipsed to our hotel and to our beds. There's not much time left for sleeping
And the thought going through the backs of the minds right now of those who are as cynical as me is "where will we be stranded tomorrow?"