A Portrait of Life in Yellowknife’s Shack Community

Photographer Pat Kane’s ‘Offgrid’ series, about shack-dwellers and houseboaters off Great Slave Lake, needs to be seen.

by Pat Kane
Dec 21 2018, 4:22pm

All photos by Pat Kane. 

Offgrid is a photography project about a small community of shack-dwellers and houseboaters tucked along the edge of Great Slave Lake in Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territories.

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 colourful 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.

A small birthday party for Becky Davis on Jolliffe Island.
Liz, Wade, Joel and Erika enjoy a bonfire on Jolliffe Island.
Peter Fredrick Kelly relaxes in his houseboat rental.
Blake Rasmussen, a local fisherman and guide, sells dried whitefish and trout on a line on the shore of Yellowknife Bay.
Andrea Bettger, Mike Mitchell and their children, Sadie and Jolliffe, walk near their home on Jolliffe Island.
Harrison Roberts and his cat, Kitty, hang out in their top floor flat of The Allison, a floating barge with a few apartment units and a greenhouse nestled up to Jolliffe Island.
Phil Boscariol takes a break from reparing his floats underneath his houseboat rental.
Shawn Buckley navigates his boat, the Shelby Lynn, through ice packs on his way home to his shack on Dog Island.
Tom Parker paddles to his houseboat during freeze-up on Yellowknife Bay.
Stefanie Vaillancourt and her dog, Black Dog.
Nico Todd-Cullen with Beezy outside of her shack in the Woodyard.
A view of the houseboats on Yellowknife Bay from Jolliffe Island.
J.D. Hollingshead hangs outside of his shack on Jolliffe Island.
One of the many colourful homes in the Woodyard.
Ryan Dempster and Cheyanna Fraser on Jolliffe Island, overlooking Yellowknife Bay.
Ian MacDougall has a swim off the Government Dock in Yellowknife Bay.

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