When the first Europeans reached Great Slave Lake in 1771, the north shore was home to the Tetsot’ine who were dubbed the Yellowknives due to their penchant for copper blades. Wars and foreign diseases eradicated them, but on the map the moniker remained.
More than a century later, Klondike-bound prospectors on Yellowknife Bay unearthed a different yellow metal: hard-rock gold. By the mid-1930s, bush planes had made the area accessible to commercial mining. Yellowknife became a boomtown.
In 1967, when Ottawa decided to devolve management of the NWT, Yellowknife, as the most populous town, was picked as capital. The community began to shift from hardscrabble outpost to buttoned-down bureaucratic hub. That shift accelerated horrifically in 1992 when a bitter labor dispute at Giant Mine led to the underground-bombing death of nine strikebreakers. Roger Warren, an unemployed miner, went to jail for life.
Since then, gold mining has ceased in Yellowknife. Four fly-in kimberlite mines north of town are now fueling a new boom, making diamonds the city’s best friend.