Beer Barge floats back to Yellowknife for 11th year

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Joseph Tunney/NNSL
The arrival of the barge at the annual Beer Barge festival in 2016.

Although Yellowknife isn’t exactly close to any other major city, it would be hard to imagine what life would be like without a road connecting it with the rest of the world.

But those who faced that way of life are celebrated each year at the annual Beer Barge festival.

“This is a celebration of what life was like during Yellowknife’s infancy, when life was rough and there was no road out of town,” said Tracey Bryant, co-ordinator of the Yellowknife Historical Society.

The annual event is taking place down by the old Wardair dock, across from the Wildcat Cafe on Back Bay. It will feature musical acts Notorious P.I.T and Joe Snow and the 40 Below. There will be a free barbecue, draw prizes, auctions and a lottery. CBC’s Loren McGinnis will be hosting the affair.

Beer will be provided by the NWT Brewing Company and guests are being urged to dress up as 1940s-era pioneers if they wish to enter the costume contest.

Some old-timey attire will be provided by Ptarmigan Ptheatrics.

The barge itself, loaded with volunteers, will depart from the government dock on Yellowknife Bay and sail around Latham Island before it arrives at the Wardair dock.

“There are pipers on board so you don’t exactly know when it will arrive but you will hear it coming,” said Bryant.

The event is a fundraiser for the Yellowknife Historical Society, which has been working to establish a museum at the Giant Mine site.

“For a decade now we’ve been trying to obtain and preserve Yellowknife artifacts from around the mine,” said Bryant. “It isn’t our goal to celebrate mining, and the community that was created around it.”

The festivities take place this Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m.

Tickets cost $50 and the senior rate is $40.

Photo courtesy of Yellowknife Historical Society
Crowds gather at the Wardair dock during a previous edition of the annual Beer Barge festival.

Before Highway 3 connected Yellowknife to the south, all goods were barged into the community across Great Slave Lake.

Supplies were stockpiled for the winter when the lake froze over. The first barge of the season was often a celebration.

“By the end of the winter, the town’s liquor supply would have dried up and any remaining beer would have gone skunky,” said Bryant. “It was also the first time fresh produce would reach the town and it was often cause for celebration.”

The modern day event marks the unofficial arrival of summer in the city, she said.

“What makes this event so special is that it’s not only an opportunity to celebrate summer but the history of Yellowknife and the people who made this town what it is today,” said Bryant.