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The Northwest Territories ( ) (NWT or NT; French, les Territoires du Nord-Ouest, TNO) is a federal territory of Canadamarker.

Located in northern Canada, the territory borders Canada's two other territories, Yukonmarker to the west and Nunavutmarker to the east, and three provinces: British Columbiamarker to the southwest, Albertamarker and Saskatchewanmarker to the south. It has a land area of and a population of 41,464 as of the 2006 census, an increase of 11.0% from 2001. Its capital has been Yellowknifemarker since 1967.

Geographical features include Great Bear Lakemarker, the largest lake entirely within Canada, Keller Lakemarker and Great Slave Lakesmarker, as well as the Mackenzie Rivermarker and the canyons of the Nahanni National Park Reservemarker, a national park and UNESCOmarker World Heritage Site. Territorial islands in the Canadian Arctic Archipelagomarker include Banks Islandmarker, Borden Islandmarker, Prince Patrick Islandmarker, and parts of Victoria Islandmarker and Melville Islandmarker. The highest point is Mount Nirvanamarker near the border with Yukon at an elevation of .

While Nunavutmarker is mostly arctic tundra, the Northwest Territories has a slightly warmer climate and is mostly boreal forest.


The present-day territory was created in June 1870, when the Hudson's Bay Company transferred Rupert's Land and North-Western Territory to the government of Canada. This immense region comprised all of non-confederation Canada except British Columbia, the coast of the Great Lakesmarker, the Saint Lawrence Rivermarker valley and the southern third of Quebecmarker, the Maritimes, Newfoundlandmarker, and the Labrador coast. It also excluded the Arctic Islands except the southern half of Baffin Islandmarker; these remained under direct Britishmarker claim until 1880.

After the transfer, the territories were gradually whittled away. The province of Manitobamarker was created on 15 July 1870, a tiny square 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 20 July 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 had comprised most of the Stikine Territory. In 1882, Reginamarker in the District of Assiniboia became the territorial capital; after Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces in 1905, Regina became the provincial capital of Saskatchewan.

In 1876, the District of Keewatin, at the centre of the territory, was separated from it. In 1882 and again in 1896, the remaining portion was divided into the following districts (corresponding to the following modern-day areas):

Keewatin was returned to NWT in 1905.

In the meantime, Ontariomarker was enlarged northwestward in 1882. Quebec was also extended, in 1898, and Yukon was made a separate territory in the same year to deal with the Klondike Gold Rush and to remove the NWT government from administering the sudden boom of population, economic activity and influx of non-Canadians.

The provinces of Albertamarker and Saskatchewanmarker were created in 1905, and Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec acquired the last of their modern territories from NWT in 1912. This left only the districts of Mackenzie, Franklin (which absorbed the remnants of Ungava in 1920), and Keewatin. In 1925, the boundaries of NWT were extended all the way to the North Polemarker on the sector principle, vastly expanding its territory onto the northern ice cap. The reduced Northwest Territories was not represented in the Canadian House of Commons from 1907 until 1947, when the electoral district of Yukon—Mackenzie River was created. This riding only included the District of Mackenzie. The rest of the Northwest Territories had no representation in the House of Commons until 1962, when the Northwest Territories electoral district was created in recognition of the Inuit having been given the right to vote in 1953.

In 1912 the Government of Canada renamed the territory to Northwest Territories, dropping the hyphenated form. Between 1925 and 1999, the Northwest Territories measured – larger than Indiamarker.

North-Western Territory in 1859
Finally, on April 1, 1999, the eastern three-fifths of the Northwest Territories (including all of the District of Keewatin and much of the Mackenzie and Franklin) became a separate territory called Nunavutmarker.

There was some discussion of changing the name of the Northwest Territories after the separation of Nunavut, possibly to a term from an Aboriginal language. One proposal was "Denendeh" ("our land" in Dene). The idea was advocated by former premier Stephen Kakfwi, among others. One of the most popular proposals for a new name—to name the territory Bob—started out as a prank, but for a time was at or near the top in opinion polls. In the end, as a poll conducted prior to division showed, strong support remained for retaining the name "Northwest Territories". This name arguably became more appropriate following division than it was when the territory extended far into Canada's northeast.

In Inuktitut, the Northwest Territories are referred to as ᓄᓇᑦᓯᐊᖅ (Nunatsiaq), "beautiful land."


The Northwest Territories reaches for over so there is 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 south are short but warm with daytime highs reaching on average the low range, with overnight lows around . Winters are long and cold, with daytime highs around , and lows around . Summers in the north are short and cool, with daytime highs in the mid teens, and lows in the single degrees. Winters are long and harsh, daytime highs in the mid and lows around . Extremes are common with summer highs in the south reaching and lows reaching into the negatives. In winter in the south its not uncommon for the temperatures to reach the 's but can also reach the low teens during the day. In the north temperatures can reach highs of , and lows can reach into the low negatives. In winter in the north its not uncommon for the temperatures to reach the but can also reach the single digits during the day. Thunderstorms are not rare in the south, but in the north they are very rare but do occur. Tornadoes are extremely rare but have happened with the most notable one happening just out side of Yellowknife that destroyed a communications tower. The Territory has a fairly dry climate due to the mountains in the west.

Tree line

Tree line in Canada
About half of the territory is above the tree line. There are no trees in most of the eastern areas of the territory, or the north islands.


According to the 2001 Canadian census the 10 major ethnic groups were:

Population of Northwest Territories since 1871
Year Population five-year

% change

% change
Rank among provinces

and territories
1871 48,000 n/a n/a 6
1881 56,446 n/a 17.6 7
1891 98,967 n/a 75.3 7
1901 20,1291 n/a -79.7 11
1911 6,5072 n/a -67.7 11
1921 8,143 n/a 25.1 10
1931 9,316 n/a 14.4 10
1941 12,028 n/a 29.1 10
1951 16,004 n/a 33.1 11
1956 19,313 20.7 n/a 11
1961 22,998 19.1 43.7 11
1966 28,738 25.0 48.8 11
1971 34,805 21.1 51.3 11
1976 42,610 22.4 48.3 11
1981 45,740 7.3 31.4 11
1986 52,235 14.2 22.6 11
1991 57,649 10.3 26.0 11
1996 64,402 11.7 23.2 11
2001 37,3603 -42.0 -35.2 11
2006 41,4644 12.0 -35.0 11

Yukon Territory was ceded from the Northwest Territories in 1898.
Alberta and Saskatchewan were created from parts of the Northwest Territories in 1905.
Data through 1996 includes Nunavut. 2001 data does not include Nunavut.
2006 census data.


The largest denominations by number of adherents according to the 2001 census were the Roman Catholic Church with 16,940 (46 %); the Anglican Church of Canada with 5,510 (15 %); and the United Church of Canada with 2,230 (6 %).


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

In the early 1980s, the federal government pressured the government of the Northwest Territories to reintroduce French as an official language. Some Native members walked out of the assembly, protesting that they were not be permitted to speak their own language. The executive council appointed a special committee to study the matter , which decided that if French was to be an official language, then the other languages in the territories must also be allowed.

The Northwest Territories' Official Languages Act recognizes the following eleven official languages, which are more than in any other political division in the Americas:

NWT residents have a right to use any of the above languages in a territorial court and in debates and proceedings of the legislature. However, laws are legally binding only in their French and English versions, and the 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 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.

Mother tongue

The 2006 census returns showed a population of 41,464.Of the 40,680 singular responses to the census question regarding 'mother tongue', the most reported languages were:
1 English 31,545 77.5%
2 Dogrib 1,950 4.8%
3 South Slavey 1,285 3.2%
4 French 975 2.4%
5 North Slavey 835 2.1%
6 Inuktitut 695 1.7%
7 Tagalog 505 1.2%
8 Chipewyan 390 1.0%
9 Vietnamese 305 0.8%
10 Chinese 260 0.6%
11= Cree 190 0.5%
11= German 190 0.5%
11= Gwich'in 190 0.5%

There were also 320 responses of both English and a 'non-official language'; 15 of both French and a 'non-official language'; 45 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 unenumerated response. The Northwest Territories' official languages are shown in bold.

(Figures shown are for the number of single language responses and the percentage of total single-language responses)


The NWT's geological resources include gold, diamonds, natural gas and petroleum. In particular, NWT diamonds are touted as an ethical alternative that allays risks of supporting conflicts by purchasing blood diamonds. However, their exploitation has raised environmental concerns, including the potential havoc that a spill from tailings ponds could cause to unspoiled wilderness areas.

The vast natural resources and relatively low population give the Northwest Territories the highest per capita GDP of all provinces or territories in Canada. In fact, its per capita GDP of C$97,923 would rank it first in the world if it were considered as its own country, well ahead of Luxembourgmarker (at approximately C$83,000 (nominal GDP)).

Diavik Diamond Mine in the North Slave Region

Major territorial mines


As a territory, the NWT has fewer rights than the provinces. During his term, Premier Kakfwi pushed to have the federal government accord more rights to the territory, including having a greater share of the returns from the territory's natural resources go to the territory. Devolution of powers to the territory was an issue in the 20th general election in 2003, and has been ever since the territory began electing members in 1881.

The commissioner of the NWT is the chief executive and is appointed by the Governor-in-Council of Canada on the recommendation of the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The position used to be more administrative and governmental, but with the devolution of more powers to the elected assembly since 1967, the position has become symbolic. Since 1985 the commissioner no longer chairs meetings of the Executive Council (or cabinet), and the federal government has instructed commissioners to behave like a provincial lieutenant governor. Unlike lieutenant governors, the commissioner of the Northwest Territories is not a formal representative of the Queen of Canada.

Unlike provincial governments and the Yukon, the government of the Northwest Territories does not have political parties, except for the period between 1898 and 1905. It is a consensus government called the Legislative Assembly. This group is composed of one member elected from each of the nineteen constituencies. After each general election, the new parliament elects a premier and speaker by secret ballot. Seven MLAs are also chosen as cabinet ministers, with the remainder forming the opposition. The territory's most recent general election was on October 1 2007. The head of state for the territories is a Commissioner appointed by the federal government. The Commissioner had full governmental powers until 1980 when the territories were given greater self government. The legislature then began electing a cabinet and Government Leader later known as the Premier.

The Premier of the Northwest Territories is Floyd Roland. The member of Parliament for Western Arctic, the riding that comprises the Northwest Territories, is Dennis Bevington (New Democratic Party). The Commissioner of the Northwest Territories is Tony Whitford.


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 Delinemarker, 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 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 Dogrib nation created a region within NWT called Tli Cho, between Great Bear and Great Slave Lakes, which will give the Dogrib their own legislative bodies, taxes, resource royalties, and other affairs, though NWT will still maintain control over such areas as health and education. This area includes two of Canada's three diamond mines at Ekati and Diavik.

See also



  • Ecosystem Classification Group, and Northwest Territories. Ecological Regions of the Northwest Territories Taiga Plains. Yellowknife, NWT: Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources, Govt. of the Northwest Territories, 2007. ISBN 0-7708-0161-7

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