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Northwest Territories

Territoires du Nord-Ouest  (French)
Flag of Northwest Territories
Coat of arms of Northwest Territories
Coat of arms
Canadian Provinces and Territories
Country Canada
Confederation July 15, 1870 (6th)
Capital Yellowknife
Largest city Yellowknife
Largest metro Yellowknife
 • Total 1,346,106 km2 (519,734 sq mi)
 • Land 1,183,085 km2 (456,792 sq mi)
 • Water 163,021 km2 (62,943 sq mi)  12.1%
Area rank Ranked 3rd
  13.5% of Canada
 • Total 41,070
 • Estimate 
(Q1 2022)
 • Rank Ranked 11th
 • Density 0.03/km2 (0.08/sq mi)
Demonym(s) Northwest Territorian
Official languages
 • Rank 11th
 • Total (2017) C$4.856 billion
 • Per capita C$108,065 (1st)
 • HDI (2018) 0.908—Very high (5th)
Time zone UTC−07:00
Postal abbr.
Postal code prefix
X0, X1 (Yellowknife)
ISO 3166 code CA-NT
Flower Mountain avens
Tree Tamarack Larch
Bird Gyrfalcon
Rankings include all provinces and territories

The Northwest Territories (abbreviated NT or NWT; French: Territoires du Nord-Ouest) is a federal territory of Canada. At a land area of approximately 1,144,000 km2 (442,000 sq mi) and a 2016 census population of 41,790, it is the second-largest and the most populous of the three territories in Northern Canada. Its estimated population as of 2021 is 45,515. Yellowknife is the capital, most populous community, and only city in the territory; its population was 19,569 as of the 2016 census. It became the territorial capital in 1967, following recommendations by the Carrothers Commission.

The Northwest Territories, a portion of the old North-Western Territory, entered the Canadian Confederation on July 15, 1870. Since then, the territory has been divided four times to create new provinces and territories or enlarge existing ones. Its current borders date from April 1, 1999, when the territory's size was decreased again by the creation of a new territory of Nunavut to the east, through the Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. While Nunavut is mostly Arctic tundra, the Northwest Territories has a slightly warmer climate and is both boreal forest (taiga) and tundra, and its most northern regions form part of the Arctic Archipelago.

The Northwest Territories is bordered by Canada's two other territories, Nunavut to the east and Yukon to the west, and by the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan to the south, and may touch Manitoba to the southeast (historic surveys being uncertain) at a quadripoint including Nunavut and Saskatchewan. The land area of the Northwest Territories is vast enough to be roughly equal to France, Portugal and Spain combined, although its overall area is even larger because of its vast lakes that freeze over in winter.


The name is descriptive, adopted by the British government during the colonial era to indicate where it lay in relation to Rupert's Land. It is shortened from North-Western Territory (see History). In Inuktitut, the Northwest Territories are referred to as ᓄᓇᑦᓯᐊᖅ (Nunatsiaq), "beautiful land."

There was some discussion of changing the name of the Northwest Territories after the splitting off of Nunavut, possibly to a term from an Aboriginal language. One proposal was "Denendeh" (an Athabaskan language word meaning "our land"), as advocated by the former premier Stephen Kakfwi, among others. One of the most popular proposals for a new name – one to name the territory "Bob" – began as a prank, but for a while it was at or near the top in the public-opinion polls.

In the end a poll conducted prior to division showed that strong support remained to keep the name "Northwest Territories". This name arguably became more appropriate following division than it had been when the territories extended far into Canada's north-central and northeastern areas.


Located in northern Canada, the territory borders Canada's two other territories, Yukon to the west and Nunavut to the east, and three provinces: British Columbia to the southwest, and Alberta and Saskatchewan to the south. It possibly meets Manitoba at a quadripoint to the extreme southeast, though surveys have not been completed. It has a land area of 1,183,085 km2 (456,792 sq mi).

Geographical features include Great Bear Lake, the largest lake entirely within Canada, and Great Slave Lake, the deepest body of water in North America at 614 m (2,014 ft), as well as the Mackenzie River and the canyons of the Nahanni National Park Reserve, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Territorial islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago include Banks Island, Borden Island, Prince Patrick Island, and parts of Victoria Island and Melville Island. Its highest point is Mount Nirvana near the border with Yukon at an elevation of 2,773 m (9,098 ft).


NWT koppen
Köppen climate types in the Northwest Territories
Ice Road on Great Slave Lake 2
Ice road on Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, 2009

The Northwest Territories extends for more than 1,300,000 km2 (500,000 sq mi) and has a large climate variant from south to north. The southern part of the territory (most of the mainland portion) has a subarctic climate, while the islands and northern coast have a polar climate.

Summers in the north are short and cool, with daytime highs in the mid teens Celsius (60° to 70 °F), and lows in the single degrees Celsius (45° to 55 °F). Winters are long and harsh, daytime highs in the mid −20 °C (−4 °F) and lows around −40 °C (−40 °F). Extremes are common with summer highs in the south reaching 36 °C (97 °F) and lows reaching into the negatives. In winter in the south, it is not uncommon for the temperatures to reach −40 °C (−40 °F), but they can also reach the low teens during the day. In the north, temperatures can reach highs of 30 °C (86 °F), and lows can reach into the low negatives. In winter in the north it is not uncommon for the temperatures to reach −50 °C (−58 °F) but they can also reach the single digits during the day. Thunderstorms are not rare in the south. In the north they are very rare, but do occur. Tornadoes are extremely rare but have happened with the most notable one happening just outside Yellowknife that destroyed a communications tower. The Territory has a fairly dry climate due to the mountains in the west.

About half of the territory is above the tree line. There are not many trees in most of the eastern areas of the territory, or in the north islands.

Average daily maximum and minimum temperatures for selected cities in Northwest Territories
City July (°C) July (°F) January (°C) January (°F)
Fort Simpson 24/11 75/52 −20/−29 −4/-19
Yellowknife 21/13 70/55 −22/−30 −7/−21
Inuvik 20/9 67/48 −23/−31 −9/−24
Sachs Harbour 10/3 50/38 −24/−32 −12/−25


North-Western Territory in 1859
Northwest Territories Proclamation
Proclamation concerning the admission of Rupert's Land and the North-West Territories to Canada

The present-day territory came under government authority in July 1870, after the Hudson's Bay Company transferred Rupert's Land and North-Western Territory to the British Crown, which subsequently transferred them to the government of Canada, giving it the name the North-West Territories. This immense region comprised all of today's Canada except that which was encompassed within the early signors of Canadian Confederation, that is, British Columbia, early forms of present-day Ontario and Quebec (which encompassed the coast of the Great Lakes, the Saint Lawrence River valley and the southern third of Quebec), the Maritimes (NS, PEI and NB), Newfoundland, the Labrador coast, and the Arctic Islands, except the southern half of Baffin Island (the Arctic Islands remained under direct British claim until 1880).

After the 1870 transfer, some of the North-West Territories was whittled away. The province of Manitoba was created on July 15, 1870, at first a small square area around Winnipeg, and then enlarged in 1881 to a rectangular region composing the modern province's south. By the time British Columbia joined Confederation on July 20, 1871, it had already (1866) been granted the portion of North-Western Territory south of 60 degrees north and west of 120 degrees west, an area that comprised most of the Stickeen Territories.

Kane The Surveyor
Captain John Henry Lefroy winter 1843/44

In the meantime, the Province of Ontario was enlarged northwestward in 1882. Quebec was also extended northwards in 1898. Yukon was made a separate territory that year, due to the Klondike Gold Rush, to free the NWT government in Regina from the burden of addressing the problems caused by the sudden boom of population and economic activity, and the influx of non-Canadians.

The provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were created in 1905, and Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec acquired the last addition to their modern landmass from the NWT in 1912. This left only the districts of Mackenzie, Franklin (which absorbed the remnants of Ungava in 1920), and Keewatin within what was then given the name Northwest Territories. In 1925, the boundaries of the NWT were extended all the way to the North Pole on the sector principle, vastly expanding its territory onto the northern ice cap.

In 1912, the Parliament of Canada made the official name of these territories the Northwest Territories, dropping all hyphenated forms of it. Between 1925 and 1999, the Northwest Territories covered a land area of 3,439,296 km2 (1,327,920 sq mi) – larger than that of India.

On April 1, 1999, the existing Northwest Territories was split into two parts, with a separate Nunavut territory being formed to represent the Inuit people.


Circle frame-1.svg

Visible minority and indigenous identity (2016):      European Canadian (39.7%)     First Nations (32.1%)     Inuit (9.9%)     Visible minority (9.6%)     Métis (8.2%)     Other Indigenous responses (0.5%)

The NWT is one of two jurisdictions in Canada – Nunavut being the other – where Indigenous peoples are in the majority, constituting 50.4% of the population.

According to the 2016 Canadian census, the 10 major ethnic groups were:

1.Yukon was ceded from the Northwest Territories in 1898.
2.Alberta and Saskatchewan were created from parts of the Northwest Territories in 1905.
3.Nunavut was separated from the Northwest Territories in 1999.


Multilingual sign for eye clinic in Yellowknife, NT
Sign for an eye clinic in Yellowknife with all 11 official territorial languages

French was made an official language in 1877 by the territorial government. After a lengthy and bitter debate resulting from a speech from the throne in 1888 by Lieutenant Governor Joseph Royal, the members of the day voted on more than one occasion to nullify that and make English the only language used in the assembly. After some conflict with the Confederation Government in Ottawa, and a decisive vote on January 19, 1892, the assembly members voted for an English-only territory.

Currently, the Northwest Territories' Official Languages Act recognizes the following eleven official languages:

NWT residents have a right to use any of the above languages in a territorial court, and in the debates and proceedings of the legislature. However, the laws are legally binding only in their French and English versions, and the NWT government only publishes laws and other documents in the territory's other official languages when the legislature asks it to. Furthermore, access to services in any language is limited to institutions and circumstances where there is a significant demand for that language or where it is reasonable to expect it given the nature of the services requested. In practical terms, English language services are universally available, and there is no guarantee that other languages, including French, will be used by any particular government service, except for the courts.

The 2016 census returns showed a population of 41,786. Of the 40,565 singular responses to the census question regarding each inhabitant's "mother tongue", the most reported languages were the following (italics indicate an official language of the NWT):

1 English 31,765 78.3%
2 Dogrib (Tłı̨chǫ) 1600 3.9%
3 French 1175 2.9%
4 South Slavey 775 1.9%
5 North Slavey 745 1.8%
6 Tagalog 745 1.8%
7 Inuinnaqtun 470 1.1%
8 Dené 440 1.1%
9 Slavey (not otherwise specified) 175 0.4%
10 Gwich'in 140 0.3%
11 Cree 130 0.3%

There were also 630 responses of both English and a "non-official language"; 35 of both French and a "non-official language"; 145 of both English and French, and about 400 people who either did not respond to the question, or reported multiple non-official languages, or else gave some other unenumerable response. (Figures shown are for the number of single language responses and the percentage of total single-language responses.)


The largest denominations by number of adherents according to the 2001 census were Roman Catholic with 16,940 (46.7%); the Anglican Church of Canada with 5,510 (14.9%); and the United Church of Canada with 2,230 (6.0%), while a total of 6,465 (17.4%) people stated no religion.


Five largest municipalities by population
Municipality 2016
Yellowknife 19,569
Hay River 3,528
Inuvik 3,243
Fort Smith 2,542
Behchoko 1,874

As of 2014, there are 33 official communities in the NWT. These range in size from Yellowknife with a population of 19,569 to Kakisa with 36 people. Governance of each community differs, some are run under various types of First Nations control, while others are designated as a city, town, village or hamlet, but most communities are municipal corporations. Yellowknife is the largest community and has the largest number of Aboriginal peoples, 4,520 (23.4%) people. However, Behchokǫ̀, with a population of 1,874, is the largest First Nations community, 1,696 (90.9%), and Inuvik with 3,243 people is the largest Inuvialuit community, 1,315 (40.5%). There is one Indian reserve in the NWT, Hay River Reserve, located on the south shore of the Hay River.


Aboriginal issues in the Northwest Territories include the fate of the Dene who, in the 1940s, were employed to carry radioactive uranium ore from the mines on Great Bear Lake. Of the thirty plus miners who worked at the Port Radium site, at least fourteen have died due to various forms of cancer. A study was done in the community of Deline, called A Village of Widows by Cindy Kenny-Gilday, which indicated that the number of people involved were too small to be able to confirm or deny a link.

There has been racial tension based on a history of violent conflict between the Dene and the Inuit, who have now taken recent steps towards reconciliation.

Land claims in the NWT began with the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, signed on June 5, 1984. It was the first Land Claim signed in the Territory, and the second in Canada. It culminated with the creation of the Inuit homeland of Nunavut, the result of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, the largest land claim in Canadian history.

Another land claims agreement with the Tłı̨chǫ people created a region within the NWT called Tli Cho, between Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes, which gives the Tłı̨chǫ their own legislative bodies, taxes, resource royalties, and other affairs, though the NWT still maintains control over such areas as health and education. This area includes two of Canada's three diamond mines at Ekati and Diavik.


Among the festivals in the region are the Great Northern Arts Festival, the Snowking Winter Festival, Folk on the Rocks music festival in Yellowknife, and Rockin the Rocks.


The Gross Domestic Product of the Northwest Territories was C$4.856 billion in 2017. The Northwest Territories has the highest per capita GDP of all provinces and territories in Canada, totalling C$76,000 in 2009.


The NWT's geological resources include gold, diamonds, natural gas and petroleum. BP is the only oil company currently producing oil in the Territory. NWT diamonds are promoted as an alternative to purchasing blood diamonds. Two of the biggest mineral resource companies in the world, BHP and Rio Tinto mine many of their diamonds from the NWT. In 2010, NWT accounted for 28.5% of Rio Tinto's total diamond production (3.9 million carats, 17% more than in 2009, from the Diavik Diamond Mine) and 100% of BHP's (3.05 million carats from the EKATI mine). The Eldorado Mine produced uranium for the Manhattan Project, as well as radium, silver, and copper (for other uses).

Diavik Diamond Mine, Canada by Planet Labs
Aerial view of the Diavik Diamond Mine in the North Slave Region
  • Eldorado Mine – 1933–1940, 1942–1960, 1976–1982 (radium, uranium, silver, copper)
  • Con Mine – 1938–2003 (gold)
  • Negus Mine – 1939–1952 (gold)
  • Ptarmigan and Tom Mine – 1941–1942, 1986–1997 (gold)
  • Thompson-Lundmark Mine – 1941–1943, 1947–1949 (gold)
  • Giant Mine – 1948–2004 (gold)
  • Discovery Mine – 1950–1969 (gold)
  • Rayrock Mine – 1957–1959 (uranium)
  • Camlaren Mine – 1962–1963, 1980–1981 (gold)
  • Cantung Mine – 1962–1986, 2002–2003, 2005–2015 (tungsten)
  • Echo Bay Mines – 1964–1975 (silver and copper)
  • Pine Point Mine – 1964–1988 (lead and zinc)
  • Tundra Mine – 1964–1968 (gold)
  • Terra Mine – 1969–1985 (silver and copper)
  • Salmita Mine – 1983–1987 (gold)
  • Colomac Mine – 1990–1992, 1994–1997 (gold)
  • Ekati Diamond Mine – 1998–current (diamonds)
  • Diavik Diamond Mine – 2003–current (diamonds)
  • Snap Lake Diamond Mine – 2007–2015 (diamonds)


Nahanni River - Third Canyon
Nahanni National Park Reserve, one of several national parks and reserves in the Northwest Territories

During the winter, many international visitors go to Yellowknife to watch the auroras. Five areas managed by Parks Canada are situated within the territory. Aulavik National Park and Tuktut Nogait National Park are in the northern part of Northwest Territories. Portions of Wood Buffalo National Park are located within the Northwest Territories, although most of it is located in neighbouring Alberta. Parks Canada also manages two park reserves, Nááts'ihch'oh National Park Reserve, and Nahanni National Park Reserve.



Northwest Territories has nine numbered highways. The longest is the Mackenzie Highway, which stretches from the Alberta Highway 35's northern terminus in the south at the Alberta – Northwest Territories border at the 60th parallel to Wrigley, Northwest Territories in the north. Ice roads and winter roads are also prominent and provide road access in winter to towns and mines which would otherwise be fly-in locations. Yellowknife Highway branches out from Mackenzie Highway and connects it to Yellowknife. Dempster Highway is the continuation of Klondike Highway. It starts just west of Dawson City, Yukon, and continues east for over 700 km (400 mi) to Inuvik. As of 2017, the all-season Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk Highway connects Inuvik to communities along the Arctic Ocean as an extension of the Dempster Highway.

Yellowknife did not have an all-season road access to the rest of Canada's highway network until the completion of Deh Cho Bridge in 2012. Prior to that, traffic relied on ferry service in summer and ice road in winter to cross the Mackenzie River. This became a problem during spring and fall time when the ice was not thick enough to handle vehicle load but the ferry could not pass through the ice, which would require all goods from fuel to groceries to be airlifted during the transition period.

The Northwest Territories is the only jurisdiction in North America to issue a non rectangular standard license plate. Instead, the territory issues a polar bear shaped license plate.

Public transit

Yellowknife Transit is the public transportation agency in the city, and is the only transit system within the Northwest Territories.


2015-09-06 Terminal at Yellowknife Airport (YZF)
Entrance to Yellowknife Airport, the largest airport in the territory

Yellowknife Airport is the largest airport in the territory in terms of aircraft movements and passengers. It is the gateway airport to other destinations within the Northwest Territories. As the airport of the territory capital, it is part of the National Airports System. It is the hub of multiple regional airlines. Major airlines serving destinations within Northwest Territories include Buffalo Airways, Canadian North, First Air, North-Wright Airways.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Territorios del Noroeste para niños

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