These Yellowknife areas could get new interpretive plaques

Map of proposed interpretive plaques
Left, an example of an interpretive plaque. Right, a map showing proposed locations.
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Five new interpretive plaques could soon appear at locations across Yellowknife.

The city’s Heritage Committee has an aim to introduce at least one new plaque a year, celebrating the city’s history. However, that hasn’t happened in recent years – so now the committee is trying to catch up.

Commissioning and placing the plaques will cost $15,000, according to a proposal seen by city councillors on Monday.

If that plan goes ahead, new plaques will appear at Ragged Ass Road, School Draw Avenue, the Somba K’e Drill Display, the Woodyard and Back Bay Cemetery.

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Councillor Julian Morse voiced a concern on Monday over the choice of the cemetery for a plaque.

“We might want to consider sending this one back to the committee to consider again,” said Morse. “My understanding is, in the long term, the cemetery needs to be considered a bit more holistically.

“I believe some of those graves are in dire need of reinterment and the entire graveyard might actually require relocation. That’s something the heritage committee might be considering taking on. I’m just wondering if potentially putting a sign there is not dealing with that long-term need.”

A future committee meeting may take that into consideration. Councillors will be able to give the project final approval at a forthcoming council session.


Here’s the proposed text for each of the plaques:

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Ragged Ass Road
At the intersection of Ragged Ass Road and Brock Drive

This unique road left authorities quite puzzled during the first municipal survey of 1939. The crew came upon a narrow track twisting around the natural contours of the rock, and as surveyors prefer to draw in straight lines the road was never mentioned in the legal survey. But its use continued regardless of what the maps said. After years of dispute between the city and residents, it was agreed to adjust property to respect the actual alignment and use of the road.

The name ‘Ragged Ass Road’ evokes images of dirty, empty pocketed men down on their luck. And back in the 1970s, perhaps this is what Yellowknife old-timer Lou Rocher and his friends were feeling after another season of gold prospecting with nothing to show for it. While sitting at the table drinking, he declared in self-mockery: “We should call this Ragged Ass Road… everyone who lives on it is dirt poor!” And the name stuck.

Yellowknife has witnessed the popularity of Ragged Ass Road climb to become the most popular street name among residents and visitors. The Canadian rock and roll musician Tom Cochrane even used the name for the title of one of his albums. In fact, tourists would go so far as to steal the road signs. Please don’t steal them! Authentic Ragged Ass Road street signs are available at souvenir gift shops.

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School Draw Avenue
Intersection of School Draw Avenue and Lunquist Road

Yellowknife’s lakefront avenue is named for a school that was located in one of its scenic draws from 1940 to 1947. The first provisional school was established in Old Town in 1939 in a tiny log cabin. As the population of children increased there was dire need for a bigger and better school. Representatives from Con and Negus Mines asked for a location that was convenient to both the settlement and the mining camps along Yellowknife Bay. A site was chosen halfway between, in a draw that today houses the city’s water supply pump house. The two-room school opened in November 1940 with 45 pupils and two teachers.

Originally there was no road to the school. Only in the winter could a taxi car operate to safely transport children across the lake ice. In the summers, they scrambled across the rocky shores to attend class. The first road connecting school to town and the mines over Tin Can Hill was built in 1943. The draw was a great place to make a home and many small houses were built even though the land was unsurveyed. In 1968, to accommodate the influx of government families, the School Draw subdivision we see today was built.

Our Mining Legacy 
Somba K’e Drill Display

Since the beginnings of Yellowknife, mining has been the backbone of the local economy. In 1934, Johnny Baker and Hugh Muir discovered gold on the shore of Yellowknife Bay, setting off a staking rush and the birth of the community. Con Mine produced gold from 1938-2003, Negus Mine from 1939-1952, and Giant Mine from 1948-2004. 

For many years starting in 1946, residents would gather at this park for picnic and games. Kids’ races, snacks, baseball, and special mining competitions were held. The mining contests were a community favourite with the strongest men showing off their underground skills. It was at this rock outcrop where  the jackleg drilling contests were held. You can still see the many collared holes. The jackleg is a type of drill used by miners underground for drilling holes in preparation for blasting the rock. A park bench made from jackleg drills now rests nearby.

On top of the rock sits a diamond drill rig and tripod as a monument to the mineral exploration industry. This type of drill bores a small hole into rock and pulls up a cross-sectional core sample. The core shows geologist the characteristics of the rock from where the hole was drilled. It is called a diamond drill because the drill’s bits are studded with diamonds which allows it to easily cut through the rock.

The Woodyard
Near entrance of Ragged Ass Road

The historic Woodyard in Willow Flats is one of the longest continuous residential areas of Old Town. From the earliest days, hardy bushmen used these shoreline flats for cutting logs into firewood and milling rough timbers for construction in the burgeoning gold town. Tom Reed, Carl Carlson, and Pete Racine were some of the first woodmen. They relied on horse-drawn sleighs to transport the cordwood to their customers.

Starting in 1946, new firewood lumber merchants ruled the Woodyard – Einer Broten and Hans Hansen. They were Norwegian born and bred, expert hewers of wood and log construction. Einer also operated a freighting business and was a general contractor. He owned the town’s first mechanical grader and built many of the docks on the waterfront. Einer is remembered as a generous and hospitable man who helped others at times when it would make a difference.

The Woodyard was not just a place of industry. To lodge the men under their employ, the woodcutters turned huts and cabooses into houses. Broten returned to Norway in 1977 and some were sold to Lou and Dorene Rocher who became stewards of the neighborhood. It has been home to prospectors, hard rocks miners, commercial fishers, trappers, musicians, and people seeking a home with an interesting atmosphere. Even to this day, years after the sawmill fell silent, the livelihoods of colourful personalities make a contribution to the legacy of the Woodyard.

Back Bay Cemetery

Yellowknife’s pioneer graveyard on Back Bay was used from 1938 to 1946, and its role as a burial place for the Dene going back centuries makes this a very sacred place. The first recorded burial here was on September 27, 1938 following the death of Art McIntyre, a young man at Con Mine who had a known fear of working underground. He wandered from his bunkhouse room one evening and it took many days of intense searching before his body was found near Kam Lake. Police confirmed that McIntyre’s death was a suicide.

Over 35 people are buried at this picturesque sandy cove. Some of the markers have disappeared with time erasing evidence of their names and tragic circumstances. People worked hard, lived hard, and sometimes died hard. Newspapers report on unfortunate mining accidents, explosions, fires, drownings, and illnesses that afflicted the community.

Funeral parties of the deceased and mourners arrived from Old Town. A cluster of boats at the beach signaled another death in pioneer Yellowknife. Here is their final resting place. Please meander respectfully through the crosses and take in the tales of the people who called the north home.

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