Yellowknife-based business Bucket List Tours has been operating full-time for about a year, but its owner Tracy Therrien has decades of experience in the Northern tourism industry.
She started out as a travel agent and became the marketing agent for the M.S. Norweta cruise ship, which travelled up and down the Mackenzie River in the eighties.
“The Norweta used to sail from Hay River to Inuvik and in doing that, I had to learn far more about then North than I actually knew,” said Therrien.
In the days before the Internet, people would see the Norweta on television and then they would try to find the booking agent.
“And then once they did, they had done a lot of other research into the North and would want to see possibly the Nahanni, they wanted to see Tuktoyaktuk, they wanted to see Wood Buffalo. So I had to learn about all of those areas and those things to see in the Northwest Territories,” she said.
Therrien has spent several years travelling the territory and visited most of the communities.
Now, as the owner and operator of Bucket List Tours, Therrien uses that knowledge to her advantage. Her summer tours take guests through the South Slave region.
“They arrive in Yellowknife and we do Fort Providence, we make our way to Hay River, we spend two nights and do the whole area. Then Katl’odeeche First Nation and the waterfalls and then we make our way to Wood Buffalo in Fort Smith. And we spend two days there,” said Therrien. One of her tours this year falls on the town’s Dark Sky Festival, before making its way to the Dehcho and Fort Simpson.
“And we spend three nights there with the hope of getting in on the flight tour to Little Doctor Lake and Virginia Falls and the whole sightseeing tour of the Nahanni,” said Therrien. Located in Nahanni National Park Reserve, Virginia Falls is roughly twice the height of Niagara Falls.
“It’s as amazing as it gets,” said Therrien. “I’ve been into the falls probably four of five times and my wonderment never changes.”
Back in Yellowknife, she offers a tour that covers much of the city’s historical and cultural landmarks.
“We start with Giant Mine, we go to YKEA (the city dump), we visit Buffalo – home of ice pilots, that’s a huge interest for people. And then we explore Old Town in great depth,” said Therrien, adding that many visitors are interested in the history and origins of Yellowknife.
Therrien guides all of the tours herself, and the rest of her team is made up of Northerners. She makes a point of hiring Northerners, because it creates a more authentic experience for the guests.
“Just experiencing the history and the culture of Yellowknife, it comes best first-hand from locals,” said Therrien. “Because they’ve lived in the mines and they’ve been here through the changes and they’ve seen the growth of Yellowknife”
A couple of her drivers are retired, long-time Yellowknifers full of knowledge and stories about the city.
“And that’s what people are interested in,” she said. “They want to meet the locals, they want to learn as much about the community as they can when they visit. And your best resource for that is locals, so that is the goal, to keep the team local.”
The tours also visit Ndilo and Dettah when the ice road is open, which gives visitors a good grasp of the area surrounding Yellowknife. Therrien’s aurora tours differ from other companies that drive tourists out of the city on the Ingraham Trail to see the lights. Located just 14 kilometres outside of Yellowknife, her woodstove-heated cabin is far enough from the light pollution caused by the city to make it a cozy aurora-viewing spot for guests.
“It’s the dream of a lot of people to see the aurora and the chances are very high here, especially in our top peak seasons,” she said. “Clear skies and northern lights, we’re good to go.”
After working in tourism for all these years, Therrien said her favourite part of her job is seeing people discover the North.
“It’s truly people that have no expectations or very little expectations of what the North is about and what they discover once they arrive,” she said.
“A lot of times I marvel in how they find our city to be so much more of an urban centre. I believe they really do believe they’re coming to the Wild Wild West, to a one-road town. So they’re very surprised when they see box stores, they’re very surprised to see what Yellowknife has to offer.”
In terms of the future, Therrien has no plans to expand, but wants to keep groups on the smaller side and focus on establishing the business. With a maximum of 16 people, the tour groups are smaller than most, making them a more personal experience.
“For the next few years I hope to establish myself,” she said. “Where it’s an intimate, cozy experience and everyone leaves feeling satisfied.”
Therrien wants her guests to leave with a good experience of the North, that will make them want to return.
“Hopefully enticing them to come back and visit other parts of the North because there is so much to see in Yellowknife and the surrounding areas,” said Therrien.
“From Inuvik to the South Slave to the Nahanni, it’s a big beautiful world.”