Discover Fort Smith, Northwest Territories: A Blend of History and Natural Beauty
Fort Smith, known as Thebacha in Chipewyan, meaning "beside the rapids," is a charming town nestled in the South Slave Region of the Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada. Situated on the Slave River and adjacent to the Alberta border along the 60th parallel north, Fort Smith is a treasure trove of history and natural beauty.
The Rich History of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories
Fort Smith was founded around the Slave River, serving as a crucial link for water transportation between southern Canada and the western Arctic. The town's history is deeply intertwined with the fur trade, the Hudson's Bay Company, and the indigenous peoples who have long inhabited the region.
The first white trader to travel the Slave River and interact with the indigenous peoples was Peter Pond of the North West Company. He established a post on Lake Athabasca, known as Fort Chipewyan, in the 1780s. The Hudson's Bay Company later built outposts at the southern and northern sets of the Slave River rapids, named Smith's Landing (Fort Fitzgerald) and Fort Smith, respectively, in honor of Donald Alexander Smith.
Fort Smith's growth was further spurred by the Yukon Gold Rush in 1898, the discovery of oil at Norman Wells in 1920, and the gold fever in Yellowknife in 1938. The town was incorporated as a village in 1964 and became a town in 1966. Despite losing its status as the transportation hub with the completion of a southern rail link to Hay River in 1964, Fort Smith remains the administrative center of the Northwest Territories' vast region.
Geography of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories
Fort Smith is approximately 300 km southeast of Yellowknife, the territorial capital. The town is home to the park headquarters for Wood Buffalo National Park and Thebacha Campus of Aurora College, the largest of the three campus locations in the Northwest Territories. Fort Smith is accessible all year round via the Fort Smith Highway and a winter road that connects it to Fort Chipewyan and Fort McMurray.
Climate of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories
Fort Smith experiences a dry continental subarctic climate with very long winters and warm but relatively short summers. The town holds the record for the highest and lowest temperatures ever recorded in the Northwest Territories, with 39.9 °C (103.8 °F) on June 30, 2021, and -57.2 °C (-71.0 °F) on December 26, 1917.
Demographics of Fort Smith, Northwest Territories
As per the 2021 Census of Population conducted by Statistics Canada, Fort Smith had a population of 2,248. The majority of the population is Indigenous, with the main languages being English, Chipewyan (Dene), Cree, Dogrib (Tłı̨chǫ), Slavey-Hare, Inuinnaqtun (Inuvialuktun), and Inuktitut.
Attractions in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories
Fort Smith is home to the Northern Life Museum and the museum ship Radium King. The town hosts the annual South Slave Friendship Festival, a music and arts festival that attracts artists from across the Northwest Territories and beyond.
The world-class Slave River attracts many tourists and kayakers, while the Fort Smith Mission Park, featuring historic buildings and a grotto from the Oblate Catholic Mission, is a popular tourist attraction. During the summer months, visitors can witness pelicans nesting on the rapids near Fort Smith and endangered whooping cranes nesting in the area.