Adrift amid the droning bush planes and paint-peeled houseboats of Yellowknife's Old Town, it's still possible to detect a palpable frontier spirit. It's as if you're standing on the edge of a large, undiscovered and barely comprehensible wilderness – and realistically (you can scratch that simile), you are. Draw a line north from Yellowknife to the Arctic Ocean and you won't cross a single road.
Subarctic Yellowknife supports 50% of the population of the NWT (20,000), a spicy if sometimes discordant stew of Dene and Métis from across the territory; Inuit and Inuvialuit from further north; grizzled non-Aboriginal pioneers; get-rich-quick newcomers from southern Canada; plus Armenians, Somalis and other more recent immigrants.
Named Somba K'e (Place of Money) in the local Tlicho language, the city has served as territorial capital since 1967 and a mining hub for a good three decades longer. Diamonds have now replaced gold as the main regional pocket-liner, but the settlement is happy to be stuck in its own frigid time-warp and remains more geographically isolated than its initial demeanor suggests.
The black, cryogenic winters can break your spirit, but in the hyperactive summers Yellowknife is doable in shorts and a large dousing of insect repellent. Not surprisingly, the territory's greatest diversity of shops and restaurants are here.
Yellowknife destination guides
Arctic Watch Lodge: Adventure and Wildlife at 74°N
Head to the Canadian Arctic for a unique view of the wildlife and scenery of this spellbinding region.