Northwest Territories, an administrative division of Canada consisting of the part of the mainland north of 60° north latitude between the Yukon Territory and Nunavut and including several islands in Hudson Bay. The total area of the Northwest Territories is 553,418 square miles (1,433,346 km2). Few areas on earth are so remote and hostile to human settlement. Most of the region is tundra underlain by permafrost, a subsurface zone that never thaws.
The Mackenzie River valley occupies the western part of the mainland and is virtually the only area of white settlement. It is a fairly level region, scantily forested and dotted by many lakes. The valley is bordered by the 9,000-foot (2,700-m) Mackenzie Mountains and two of Canada's largest lakes, Great Bear and Great Slave lakes. The rest of the mainland is a treeless, glacier-scoured land that varies from flat to rolling. Countless rivers and lakes, poor drainage, rocky expanses, and widespread glacial deposits characterize this area.
The climate of the Northwest Territories is harsh and severe. Winters are long, bitterly cold, and marked by lengthy periods of darkness. Summers are short, generally cool to warm, and accompanied by long daylight hours. Conditions are least severe in the Mackenzie Valley, where average temperatures vary from about -10° to -25° F. (-23° to -32° C.) in January and reach 60° F. (16° C.) in July. Average temperatures elsewhere are considerably lower. Precipitation is light, usually about 10 inches (250 mm) a year. Much of it falls as snow.
Almost the only economic activities are mining, commercial fishing, and fur trapping. All three activities center in the Mackenzie Valley, especially around Great Slave Lake, the only part of the Territories linked to the south by road and railway. Mining, the chief activity, produces mainly metals, especially zinc, lead, gold, silver, and diamonds. Almost all commercial fishing takes place in Great Slave Lake. Of less importance are fur trapping and trading, which until almost the mid-20th century were the chief economic endeavors. Agriculture and forestry are of little significance and have limited potential. Most foods and other materials are brought up from the south.
There are few roads and no railways beyond Great Slave Lake. Overland winter transport is primarily by dogsled, snowmobile, and all-terrain vehicle. Though navigable, the Mackenzie River and its major tributaries are of limited use because they are frozen throughout much of the year. Airplanes are widely used.
The population of the Northwest Territories in 2001 was 37,360. The majority of the people are white; the rest are Inuit (Eskimos) and Indians. Yellowknife, on Great Slave Lake, with 16,541 inhabitants, is the capital and largest city. Other settlements include Hay River, Inuvik, and Fort Smith.
The Northwest Territories is governed by a commissioner (appointed by the federal government), an executive council of up to 8 members (chosen by the territorial legislature), and a legislative assembly whose 24 members are elected to four-year terms. The territorial government has authority over most territorial matters but does not have jurisdiction over nonrenewable resources. The Northwest Territories is represented in the federal parliament by one senator and two members of the House of Commons. For administrative purposes, the Northwest Territories is divided into five regions. The judiciary includes the Territorial Court, the Supreme Court, and the Court of Appeal.
The region was inhabited by Inuit (Eskimos) and various Indian tribes when explored by Europeans in the 16th century. In 1670 the eastern part, known as Rupert's Land, came under control of the Hudson's Bay Company, a fur-trading venture. In 1779 fur-trading to the south and west of Rupert's Land was begun by the North West Company. Its lands became known as the Northwestern Territory. Alexander Mackenzie, a company trader, discovered the Mackenzie River in 1789. In 1821 the North West Company was absorbed by the Hudson's Bay Company.
In 1869 the Canadian government took over the Hudson's Bay Company's lands, and the following year Rupert's Land and Northwestern Territory were joined to form the Northwest Territories. Portions of this land later became parts of provinces and of the territory Nunavut.
During the 1930's mining developed in the region. Exploration for oil and natural gas was begun in the 1970's, but the deposits found were not large. A proposal to create a new self-governing territory from a part of the Northwest Territories was approved by the legislature in 1987 and by voters in 1992. In April, 1999, the new territory, called Nunavut, officially came into being.
|Facts about the Northwest Territories|
|Government: Parliament—members of the Senate, 1; members of the House of Commons, 1. Territorial—members of the territorial Legislative Assembly, 19.|
|Area: 501,570 mi2 (1,299,070 km2), including 42,860 mi2 (111,000 km2) of inland water. Greatest distances—north-south, 1,320 mi (2,125 km); east-west, 860 mi (1,385 km). Coastline—6,835 mi (11,000 km).|
|Elevation: Highest—Mount Sir James MacBrien in the Mackenzie Mountains, 9,062 ft (2,762 m) above sea level; Lowest—sea level along the coast.|
|Population: 2006 census—41,464; density, 8 per 100 mi2 (3 per 100 km2).|
|Chief products: Fishing industry—whitefish, lake trout. Manufacturing—food products, printed materials.. Mining—diamonds, petroleum, natural gas.|