The world appeared to have plenty of opportunities for new directions in 1984 - at least for Canada’s two northern territories. Indigenous northerners were contemplating self government and control over traditional lands. There was potential for buy-in in resource industries. Billions were being spent on the search for oil and gas, creating jobs on a scale never before seen. Traditional languages were recognized and Indigenous gender equality was made into law.
Things looked good for almost everyone else, too. In 1984, Guaranteed Investment Certificates were earning 13.75 percent for a five-year term. The Edmonton Oilers won the Stanley Cup. Winnipeg won the Grey Cup. Marc Garneau was the first Canadian in space aboard NASA’s Challenger spacecraft.
COPE signed off on the Inuvialuit Final Agreement in 1984. It provided for Inuvialuit ownership of 91,000 km2 of land and surface and subsurface rights to 11,000 km2. This first northern agreement also provided for a conservation regime for the Yukon North Slope, including a national park, and a territorial park at Herschel Island.
There was huge disappointment in Fort Simpson when the aircraft carrying Pope John Paul for a planned visit was unable to land due to weather. The Pope stopped in Yellowknife for a few minutes, instead.
On the positive side, the Liard Highway opened, and the extension of the Mackenzie Highway to Wrigley was contracted to an Indigenous company. The Carcross - Skagway road and parts of the Mackenzie highway and the Dempster were reconstructed under federal supervision.
In Yukon, a 400-pound beaver, the size of a black bear, was found buried near Old Crow, confirming traditional stories of giant beavers that once roamed the North.
Yukon’s Northern Native Broadcasting and NWT’s Native Communications Society received broadcasting licences in 1984. Satellite TV and radio finally reached Jean Marie River and Nahanni Butte.
PauktuutIt, the Inuit women’s association, was established. Indigenous Survival International was formed to protest European opposition to trapping.
The Yellowknife Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) opened Thursday, May 17, 1984, in the newly renovated Sir John Franklin High School, thanks to the generosity of the Globe and Mail, and many northern donors. The opening gala (tickets $75) included complimentary champagne, roses, a souvenir program and a poster created for the occasion. The multicultural event included the Dene Drummers, Baker Lake Throat Singers, the Delta Dancers and Hyacinthe Andre, together with John Allen Cameron and The Famous People Players. NACC’s first season included a performance by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and Hornby, a play by local Bruce Valpy. Local, too, Handel’s Messiah was staged by musician Roy Menaugh and the Yellowknife Choral Society.
1984 was special year for many reasons. CBC celebrated 25 years with a touring show called Six Days on the Road featuring Dave Essig, Mike O’Reilly and Sylvia Tyson. Their True North Concerts collected northern music by Charlie Panagoniak, Richard Lafferty and Colin Adjun, among many others. Recordings were later issued for sale on CD.
Yellowknife celebrated the 50th Anniversary of its first settlement in late June, 1984. Festivities included a Homecoming event at McNiven Beach. Mayor Don Sian spoke briefly, The Mildred Hall choir sang, and Commissioner John H. Parker awarded Canadian Tourism Medallions to Bob Engle of Northwest Territorial Airways and Yellowknifer publisher Jack Sigvaldason. A rainstorm held off long enough to allow an abbreviated public gathering, then the clouds opened with thunder and lightning and spectators were drenched.
Folk on the Rocks celebrated its fifth season at Long Lake with headliners Murray McLachlin and Paul Hann, and sailors took to the big lake for the third annual Commissioner’s Cup race from Yellowknife to Hay River and back. The first Yukon Quest long distance dog race was staged in 1984.
Nationally, Progressive Conservative Brian Mulroney was elected Prime Minister, succeeding Liberal Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who had resigned the Liberal Party leadership. Jeanne Sauve was named the first female Governor General in Canada’s history. Yukon MP Erik Nielsen was named deputy Prime Minister, and David Crombie became Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Amendments were made to the federal Indian Act, and widely circulated, removing discrimination in the Act on the basis of gender.
In Yukon, Doug Bell was Commissioner, and Chris Pearson was Premier. In Whitehorse, colourful politician Flo Whyard was succeeded as Mayor by Don Branigan. The Yukon government purchased a large plot of land beside the Yukon River in downtown Whitehorse which became parkland.
In the NWT, in 1984, Richard Nerysoo succeeded George Braden as Government Leader. The Assembly named Aboriginal languages along with English and French as the 11 official languages of the Northwest Territories. Inuvik’s Agnes Semmler was appointed Deputy Commissioner, and Rankin Inlet’s Tagak Curley was NWT Minister Responsible for Energy, Mines and Resources Secretariat. Dave Nickerson and Thomas Suluk were sent to Ottawa as NWT MPs.
Commissioner John Parker announced he would no longer be sitting with elected members of the NWT Legislative Assembly, or participating in their debates. It was a significant step forward for local control of the government. By 1984, Yukon had several years experience with party politics, but the NWT was just beginning to build consensus government.
Exploration and mining kept northerners busy near Yellowknife at Bullmoose, McKay Lake, Thor Lake and Salmita. On the barrenlands, Charles E. Fipke and partner Dr. Stewart Blusson were patiently searching glacial debris for signs of diamonds. (They were finally successful in 1991.) In the Yukon, United Keno Hill was active, while there was still some activity at Cyprus Anvil, which had closed. Yukon exploration centered around gold. Active mines in the NWT included the Con Mine, Giant Mine, Pine Point Mine and Tungsten. Further north and east, operating mines included Nanisivik, Lupin and Polaris.
Polar Gas submitted its ill-fated pipeline proposal in 1984, while Interprovincial Pipe Line was completing the connection to carry oil from Norman Wells to Zama, Alberta. At Norman Wells, Esso had drilled 58 wells and completed several artificial islands in the Mackenzie River to supply the new pipeline with sweet crude.
Oil and gas exploration worth more than a billion dollars focused on the Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea in 1984. Dome Petroleum had four drillships operating from its base at Tuktoyaktuk. Oil and gas finds were big news and major employers. Of 4,200 jobs in exploration, 1,600 were filled by northerners. Gulf announced successful finds at Pitsiulak A-05 and Amauligak J-44. Esso announced a gas find at Kadluk O-07. Panarctic Oils Limited received the go-ahead for its Bent Horn demonstration oil project on Cameron Island.
Closer to home, the Slave River sawmill, which was destroyed by fire in 1983, was back in business. The Alpine Bakery opened its doors in Whitehorse, and the Inuvik parka factory was busy supplying gear for northern winters
Planning was under way for the Yukon Pavilion and NWT’s show stopping participation in Vancouver’s World’s Fair, Expo 86.
Largely in the background, but moving forward steadily in 1984, there were discussions on Division of the Northwest Territories into western and eastern halves. The Tungavik Federation of Nunavut was in negotiations for a land claim. Meanwhile, the Council for Yukon Indians’ Agreement in Principle had reached Ottawa, but was put on hold as a result of internal disagreements.
In education, the NWT’s newly named Arctic College announced a Thebacha Campus in Fort Smith and a campus in Frobisher Bay. A student hostel was planned for Rankin Inlet. Clyde River opened a new school, and Grollier Hall student residence in Inuvik celebrated its silver anniversary.
The first Arctic cruise ships were poking their noses into Northwest Passage communities - in 1984, the Lindblad Explorer visited Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Spence Bay (now Taloyoak). The Northwest Territories Travel Industry Association marked its 25 year anniversary.
Food prices at Newton Wong’s YK Super A and the IGA in Yellowknife were considered astronomical, locally. Grapefruit cost four for a dollar in January, T-bone steaks were $7.95 per pound, and cauliflower cost an exorbitant $1.49 each! Local restaurants included the Gold Range, Netties, Our Place and The Gallery, in addition to eateries at the Explorer Hotel and the Yellowknife Inn. The Panda Centre opened with modern retail space across from the Super A.
At the Capitol Theatre in Yellowknife, The Curse of the Pink Panther and Rear Window were playing. For home entertainment, Yellowknife TV advertised “900 new videotapes arriving soon”.
Street mailboxes were promised soon by Canada Post, to the dismay of residents who traded news regularly at the (only) post office at 49th Street and 50th Avenue. Resistance to the change continued for many years.
Shorty Brown, Pat McMahon and Roxy Pennie were recruiting more than a dozen airlines plus DND and the RCMP to participate in the Bush Pilot’s Reunion hosted by Northwest Territorial Airways. The airline business was in chaos, said the Canadian Transport Commission (CTC), as it called for sweeping changes and airport upgrades. Nordair was advertising passenger and cargo service from Yellowknife in 1984, Latham Island Airways added a Turbo Beaver, and Willie Laserich was finally granted an aviation licence supported by over 100 letters to the CTC. Spur Aviation was fined, and Turn-Air was defending itself in the media. Air North began offering scheduled service in Yukon and into Alaska. Also in the air, the US military announced Cruise Missile tests were to start in 1985 in the Mackenzie Valley.
The 8th Arctic Winter Games were held in Yellowknife for the second time, managed by vast numbers of volunteers. Canadian Pacific Airlines delivered the Alaska team in a Boeing 747, the largest aircraft ever to land in the city. For those who wanted to get away, Mack Travel offered Vancouver for five nights for $369, and Las Vegas for $733 per person. A 12-hour Arctic Circle day trip to Coppermine was just $199. Pacific Western Airlines offered a one way ticket to Edmonton for $209. Northwest Territorial Airways carried passengers from Winnipeg to Yellowknife, return, in a comfortable Lockheed Electra, with meals (china plates and stainless cutlery) for just $309.
In 1984, while the NWT Legislative Assembly held hearings on the state of northern housing, a 1973 three-bedroom trailer in Yellowknife’s Northland Trailer Court was advertised at $34,500. A “three-bedroom home with heated garage” was selling for $106,000. A very trendy Apple IIc computer was going for $1,795. Kingland Ford announced a special deal on a brand new 1984 Ford F-150 pickup for a low $9,800.
And finally, Up Here magazine offered its first charter subscriptions to Up Here and Up Here Business in the October 26, 1984, edition of News North. Skeptics wondered aloud when Up Here would run out of stories.
Thanks to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre Archives for access to 1984 editions of News North, the Yellowknifer, and copies of the NWT Annual Report.