Kam Lake debate becoming a battle between homeowners and dog mushers

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Range Lake North teacher and Grace Lake resident Jackie Hawthorn was reading the Amazing Christmas Extravaganza storybook to her Grade 2 students recently when she realized it was the perfect book to read to city councillors.

Jackie Hawthorn, sits with her dog Molly, at her Grace Lake home Wednesday. She is among several neighbours who voiced their opposition to the proposed Yellowknife Community Plan that will allow dog mushers to live in close proximity to residential areas.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

The book is about a man named Mr. Merriweather who, after being offended by his neighbour’s weak Christmas light display, gradually goes overboard with decorations to the point of overloading the electrical system, causing the power to go out in the entire neighbourhood.

“So he doesn’t realize how upset his neighbours had gotten until the mob loses it,” she said. “No one said anything and no boundaries were written and the situation became where the nice town people turned into a mob that was unhappy because no one talked, no one compromised and everyone was working in their own camp.

“The explosion at the end didn’t need to happen.”

Hawthorn, who lives with her husband and three children on the north side of the pristine Grace Lake, sees a similar pattern developing when she thinks about the city’s proposed Yellowknife Community Plan.

Council will vote on the plan at second reading at a special council meeting Dec. 19. It proposes to create a new designated area called Kam Lake South that will conjoin the Curry Drive loop and two large lots west and south of the Kam Lake, which lies perpendicular to Grace Lake.

The plan allows dog sledders and kennel owners to retain and expand their land usage while also purchasing lots at market price that they can live on. The new area would also provide for some agricultural and tourism use.

The draft Yellowknife Community Plan proposes to conjoin the Curry Drive loop at Kam Lake with a new designated area called Kam Lake South. The creation of the new area proposes to allow dog mushers and kennel owners to expand within municipal boundaries.

To Hawthorn and many of her neighbours, the plan doesn’t strike the right equilibrium of a shared neighbourhood that will, on one hand, provide a lasting quality of life for existing homeowners, while allowing the dog mushing community to thrive.

In an at times tearful presentation to council Monday night, she said harmony must be preserved among neighbours and that allowing for “agriculture” is unacceptable. She added more needs to be done by the city to conserve the ecology of Grace Lake where her children swim, namely by enforcing the cleaning up of dog feces and urine left behind on the lake by teams of dogs.

“The dog feces and urine on the lake is extreme,” she said. “There is a lot and I can’t walk on it in the winter without walking through it. I’m sure there could be a plan in place to remediate that.”

Providing an area for dog kennels and mushers at the southern end of the Kam Lake South district is the most reasonable solution that would make everybody happy, she said.

Hawthorn’s presentation was one of several that captured much of the divisive emotion between mainly Indigenous dog mushers who have traditionally kept dog teams and practiced running them on Kam Lake and nearby trail networks, and home and business owners who also occupy the area.

Longtime Kam Lake resident and business owner Peter Curran, was among those who opposes plans for Kam Lake and Kam Lake South as it applies to an increase in dog kennel use. He said it continues a historical pattern in the city for poor planning. Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

[Read here for a full historical overview of the Kam Lake district]

Dog Trotters Association

Jordee Reid, president of the Yellowknife Dog Trotters Association, and dog sledder Alexis Campbell were among the two strongest advocates for the city’s plan, arguing it would accommodate the growth of their traditional cultural practice from Curry Drive into the newly designated Kam Lake South zone.

Jordee Reid, president of Yellowknife Dog Trotters Association, is among those embracing the city’s plan to allow for dog kennel owners to be able to purchase lots at market value in a new district called Kam Lake South.
NNSL file photo

“The reason for our expansion plan is for dog mushing to continue to grow and be a viable asset of the City of Yellowknife’s identity,” she said. “As a city that promotes northern culture, way of life.”

Reid said the plan allows dog mushing to grow because of unique features not found anywhere else in the city. Among them include road access to lots within municipal boundaries, access to municipal power, access to existing trail systems, lakes, natural landscapes, rocky outcrops and trees, no swampy areas and good natural drainage. The new area, as proposed, would also allow kennel owners to live with their dogs on site away from contamination from the defunct Con Mine.

Campbell said homeowners in Grace Lake should have known that dog kennels were the predominant use in the Kam Lake area and she commended the city for providing for increased use to expand tourism and build on reconciliation.

“By including kennels in the community plan, it shows the city is prioritizing all of its citizens and not just a specific group of homeowners,” she said.

Debate on revised usage

Coun. Niels Konge council directed city administration to revise a draft plan for the two neighbourhoods that was debated extensively on Tuesday.

Council will vote on the matter at a special council meeting on Thursday, Dec. 19.

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