The Explorer Hotel celebrated its 72-room expansion at its grand opening on March 6.
The $20-million renovation includes a new fitness facility, a wall mural by renowned artist Alex Janvier and one new aurora signature suite. The suite is billed as the largest one-bedroom executive suite north of 60, complete with a heated balcony, country furs, and a telescope for stargazing.
The hotel’s conference and meeting spaces have also been expanded to hold up to 550 people.
In 1967 Yellowknife was declared the capital of the Northwest Territories.
“There was an incredible amount of excitement in this community,” said Doug Cox, CEO of Nunastar Properties, which owns the Explorer Hotel. “The gold mining was still going strong, there was a commissioner of the Northwest Territories, his name was Stuart Hodgson, very dynamic and very big ambitions for the North, very strong in Ottawa so he did some really great things for the territory.”
The town was experiencing a population boom and had grown 65 per cent over the previous five years, he said.
“PWA, Pacific Western Airlines was a Western-Canadian based airline that was the primary service provider up here, from a passenger point of view. And anyway, they were desperate for a hotel.”
But other than the Gold Range, there were very few places to stay in town.
So PWA started looking for someone to partner with to build a hotel.
“They partnered with a fellow named Harry Hole out of Edmonton of Lockerbie and Hole Construction,” said Cox.
During that time, PWA was in the process of being acquired by the Alberta government and the airline ended up bailing out of the project.
“Luckily, Harry was able to get the construction financed and managed to carry on,” he said. “He had the grand opening of the original hotel in June of 1974 and the hotel went forward.”
In 1988 Hole sold the hotel to the Mark family, before Cox bought it from them in 2004.
“And we’ve owned it since,” said Cox. “When I bought it we renovated the entire hotel.”
They added a 16-room expansion in 2008, and another 72 rooms this year, bringing the grand total up to 259 rooms.
The hotel has played an important role in the territory’s history.
“It was actually the seat of the legislature for a few years,” said Cox.
“They used to hold it in the room over here,” he said gesturing to the conference room. “But it always played a big role in the economy of the Northwest Territories. It was a pretty small place, there were only 7,500 people here when it opened. It was not a big community.”
Even the name of the hotel was in line with its surroundings.
“It was very fitting for this part of the world, particularly at that time,” said Cox. “It was still the Wild West out here in a lot of ways. A lot of the old-timers, a lot of the gold miners came here for that. We’re still here, so it was a very fun time.”
The hotel has hosted all kinds of guests during its 45 years in business, including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince William, Kate Middleton and Justin Trudeau.
“We’ve had presidents from the United States. We’ve had every prime minister of Canada for sure stay here. We’ve had German chancellors. We’ve had princes, princesses,” said Cox.
In terms of the future, the hotel will continue to grow with the city and the territory, he said.
“I think the hotel’s always been an innovator and a market leader and with this wonderful team of people we have, we certainly intend to continue on that path.”
The hotel’s vice-president and marketing vice-president were in China and Korea directly marketing last winter.
“It does take a large-scale operation to be able to do those kinds of things and hopefully it benefits the entire community,” said Cox.