To Yellowknife and Back

Lest I forget, I am recording some thoughts and memories of this small city called Yellowknife (YK) where we had stayed for five days and four nights in between a skiing trip in Whistler. It is small, with 136.2 sq km which is one-eighth the area of Hong Kong, but it is the capital city and the only city of Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT) which boasts an area of 1,346 million sq km, including 1,183 million sq km of land. As regards population, however, based on official 2019 figures, Hong Kong had 7,436,154, NWT, 44,826 and YK, 19,200, including the estimated floating population of 5,000, such as tourists and tour operators.  In short, we can put all the people in that vast area of NWT in one housing estate in Hong Kong, to put the matter in context.

The City of Yellowknife hires 5,000 public servants, implying that one person in three in town one meets could be a public servant. It has an airport which operates domestic flights to and from Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, not even Toronto. There are two gates, but only one is functional.  All departing and arriving passengers must walk to and from their plane for boarding and alighting through the air stair and hence be subjected to the natural elements; and departing passengers are advised to arrive 90 minutes before their departure time.

Taxis are aplenty and inexpensive, and the trip from airport to city centre is short, at around C$20 per trip. Most tour operators offer door to door pick up services, from airport to hotel and back to airport, with pick up services for lights chasing. Hotels are not cheap though in terms of value for money, at around C$180 to 200 a night for the rather basic services available, or rated at most between two to three stars. Somehow, we ended up staying at Quality Inn, which was not Su’s choice hotel, but the better ones were fully booked. Nevertheless, it has the advantage of being located next to a shopping mall with a city library and there is a supermarket in the next block. Very importantly, there was a hot pot restaurant right across the street, run by a Chinese couple from Dalian. A friend had used the restaurant twice in his last visit; and we also used it twice. We went there the first time for late lunch on our rest day – Day Three – and had hot pot. It was no comparison with Hong Kong or Mainland standard, but what should one expect. Su and Jacky the owner became instant friends; and Jacky insisted that we should have lunch there the next day so that he could cook us something special. Jacky and his wife had come to YK as immigrants from Dalian for about two years. They were in their late forties and were both professionals holding down good jobs. Jacky had been a distributor of Samsung products in China for over 20 years and ran 5 to 7 shops in the heydays, but with business downsizing and no prospect of a comeback, they decided to come to Canada, initially filing his application as investor in IT project management in Vancouver. The Canadian authorities turned down his application twice, but eventually approved one based on operating restaurants and hostels, and in YK. They seem to be doing well.

We went to a fish and chip shop for lunch on Day Two. This one had been recommended to Su from a few sources. We went there by taxi. A good thing about our hotel is that there are always two to three taxis waiting outside. The restaurant does good steaks and arctic char, grilled or deep fried. The local brew was C$10 a bottle, not cheap but good. After the heavy lunch, Su decided to walk on foot to a nearby ice carving exhibition, part of which apparently was on a frozen lake. I was not too keen, but what could I do? We made or stumbled to the entrance, saw a few exhibits and decided to turn back when we saw an incoming taxi. We were not exactly attuned to walking in arctic temperatures at -26⁰C. Indeed going any places require some planning, even though they are a few hundred metres away. It is not practical to walk between places, unless they are very close and within sight, such as the hot pot restaurant across the street from the hotel.

Another nice thing about Quality Inn is that it offers decent breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m., with unlimited coffee, not water, fruit juices, pancakes, bread and butter, apple and orange, soft boiled eggs or omelets, and fried bacon or minced pork cakes. The waitress or server was very intent to collect the breakfast coupons. When a bloke came in without one and claimed to have left it upstairs, she asked him to fetch it. The guy refused to move and after a minute flat, a security man arrived and threatened to book him for theft. He left with bread in the mouth, but failed to pick up his eggs. Obviously, he was not a hotel guest.

Back in Hilton Whistler with our usual and accustomed comfort, and looking back, I wonder whether we have seen YK for good and whether we would go there again. I am quite sure of my answer, but Su is not.

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