Looking at a map of Yellowknife one might be struck by the awesomeness of the water surrounding it, as well as the hostile nature of almost all its shoreline on Great Slave Lake.
From Negus Point to Mosher Island is an uninterrupted expanse of rock and when the weather is rough, which is at least half the time during open water, there are pounding waves. There is some protection behind Mosher Island, which is why the original owners of Con Mine put a dock there years ago, but it is vulnerable to north/south winds and the shore is steep.
Areas that are sheltered – behind Jolliffe and Dog islands, McMeekan Causeway and the east shore of Back Bay were occupied and developed long before anybody had any thoughts of public boat launches and marinas. What wasn’t being used by the Yellowknives Dene at Ndilo, who have lived there since time immemorial, was quickly gobbled up by Yellowknife’s earliest inhabitants who began pouring into the city in the mid-1930s after gold was discovered at Burwash Point.
Access to Great Slave Lake has been a problem ever since, particularly for motorboats and sailboats. There was one, single-lane boat launch at MacDonald Drive and Wiley Road – still is – but it hardly sufficed in this growing city and the amount of congestion on these narrow roads made dropping a boat there an aggravating experience for boaters and anybody else who had to make way for them.
In 2001, the City of Yellowknife presented a Waterfront Management Plan with a goal of winning back some of the shoreline for public use. Much of the shoreline in Old Town is in fact, Commissioner’s Land but people have been have been building their docks and boathouses on it for years.
City council quickly backed away from that scheme after angry residents began showing their opposition in council chambers so serious waterfront improvement efforts in Old Town were largely shelved.
One thing that did happen though was the construction of the public boat launch at Giant Mine, also in 2001, which quickly became the go-to location for recreational boaters. With the closure of Giant Mine, suddenly the city had access to a suitable location for a growing number of boaters in the city to access Great Slave Lake, a way from town, with parking and largely free of congestion.
The Yellowknife Harbour Plan, which came in 2011, recommended the city pursue the feasibility of a marina at Giant Mine with an alternate site at Mosher Island. But clearly, Giant Mine is the ideal spot.
Of course it is but now the federal government is throwing a spanner into the spokes. Its remediation team wants to dredge the waters for arsenic contamination and raze the old town site adjacent to the boat launch. This will likely require the closure of the boat launch and Great Slave Sailing Club next door within four years for a yet undetermined period of time, perhaps years.
If there wasn’t any urgency when the city was compiling all those reports for the last 20 some-odd years there certainly is now. City councillor Niels Konge suggests it is not a problem yet and if it does become a problem, the city can deal with it then.
We suggest this an overly optimistic view and if there is no crisis now, there will be if the federal remediation team does indeed insist the boat launch and sailing club be shut down entirely, or even partially, while cleaning up the shoreline.
As we pointed out earlier in this editorial, alternatives are few, and if four years from now the city insists the hundreds of people who own boats in Yellowknife must now have to funnel through Old Town where there is now a multitude of tourism operations and a busy bar, to access Great Slave Lake, there will be bedlam.
People spend a lot of money on their boats and boating season is short. If there was ever a need for a plan, now is the time.