This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Offgrid is a photography project about a small community of shack-dwellers and houseboaters tucked along the edge of Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories in Canada. I moved to Yellowknife in 2005 and like most newcomers, I was immediately drawn to the city’s Oldtown, where settlers in the form of gold prospectors set up makeshift homes in Weledeh, the traditional territory of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, in the early 1930’s. The shanties remained as the city grew around it. The first houseboats appeared in the early 1980’s.
Today the shacks and houseboats are occupied by a colorful collection of characters: Professionals looking for a sense of adventure, artists and musicians with freewheeling spirit, young families who appreciate the lifestyle it brings, and old farts who you’d think were born next to a moonshine still. In his book about Yellowknife, Midnight Light, author Dave Bidini calls them “hippies-not-hippies,” which is an accurate description.
While most shack dwellers here are in search of the romanticized North (or solitude) away from the city crowds, they’ve managed to create a vibrant community all their own. Some locals see them as freeloaders because many live without property tax, while others see them as folk-heroes and the greatest contributors to the vibrancy and character of Yellowknife itself.