Welcome to the Mackenzie Valley – the last of the great routes of the voyageurs. Bounded on the west by the northern part of the Rockies, and on the east by the treeless barrens and one of the largest rivers in the world., the Mackenzie Valley offers visitors the simplicity of traditional Metis and Dene lifestyles as well as rugged mountain and river adventures.
Norman Wells offers you the best of two worlds. With a comfortable hotel as your base, explore the Mackenzie Valley wilderness on day trips. Fish for arctic grayling, northern pike, and world-class lake trout. Travel scenic waterways and watch for nesting birds. Enjoy a whitewater adventure on world-class rivers. Explore the cultural heritage of the Metis and Dene people. Follow the Canol Road for the hiking experience of a lifetime. This is the land where beauty and adventure go hand in hand.
Daily jet service is available and scheduled or chartered air services offer convenient access to the surrounding communities.
WHAT TO SEE
Birdwatchers will enjoy spotting bald and golden eagles and sandhill cranes. There are moose, caribou, black and grizzly bears and Dall’s sheep. There’s fishing for lake trout, arctic grayling, northern pike, whitefish, loche and inconnu — known locally as “coney.”
The Mackenzie River has always been known as Dehcho – “big river” – to the Dene. You can travel Dehcho for hundreds of miles, going upriver towards Hay River and Great Slave Lake, or downriver towards the arctic circle Fort Good Hope, Inuvik and the Beaufort Sea. There are very fine canoeing rivers nearby in the Mackenzie Mountains.
Just across the river the Canol Heritage Trail offers spectacular wilderness scenery, extreme hiking and a window on an unusual history lesson.
For more tourism information in the Norman Wells area visit the Norman Wells Historical Society website.
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TRAVEL THE CANOL TRAIL
The Canol Heritage Trail provides a walk through the nearly forgotten history of one of Canada’s first mega-projects, in a landscape that is both captivating and intriguing.
The abandoned Canol Road winds its way for 372 km from the Norman Wells oilfield, across the broad plains of the Mackenzie River valley, through several mountain ranges, over the Mackenzie Mountain Barrens and up to MacMillan Pass on the Cntinental Divide, before passing into the Yukon and on towards Whitehorse. The route has now been designated the Canol Heritage Trail, and has been given National Historic Site status. Seasoned adventures may want to tackle this route on thier own, but guiding services can also provide tours along all or parts of the Trail.
The Canol Road project was conceived during World War II, when Japanese warplanes attacked petroleum installations in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. With Pacific shipping and coastal facilities at risk, the Norman Wells oilfield was of immense strategic importance. Thus began a huge undertaking, to bring Norman Wells oil across a vast expanse of rugged mountains to Whitehorse, Yukon.
Between 1942 and 1945, more than $300 million was spent, and 30,000 people were employed, to install 1600 km of telephone lines, lay 2650 km of 4- and 6-inch pipe, and construct an accompanying road to provide access to the pumping stations which lifted the oil over high passes.
In an amazing engineering feat, the construction was carried out entirely during the winter of 1943-44, Native people along the Mackenzie were employed as guides and river pilots, but were never employed in the actual construction, which was essentially an American military operation. In April, 1944, the first oil reached Whitehorse.
By the time the pipeline was completed, however, the Japanese had been driven from the Aleutian Islands, and the project lost its strategic imperative. The refined fuel produced in Whitehorse was very expensive, so in April of 1945, after less than a year of operation, the entire project was abandoned.
Pump engines and most pipe was salvaged, but a lot of other equipment was simply abandoned. Now, 50 years later, the remains of pumping stations, road camps, bridges and trucks can still be seen.
The raised roadbed provides an opportunity to traverse many portions of the route with relative ease (although not recommended for biking). But landslides and washed-out bridges make some areas impossible or very difficult to ford.
It is important to note that this is a rugged and isolated wilderness area, and the dilapidated military structures alone the Trail should not be relied on for accommodation. The weather can be severe even in summer. Anyone considering traversing the entire Trail should arrange food drops along the Trail before setting out.
Outfitters in Norman Wells can arrange boat trips and/or air charters to the eastern trailhead. A variety of shorter excursions can be booked to see parts of the Trail. The western trailhead, at MacMillan Pass on the Yukon/NWT Border, can be reached by a very rough road from Ross River, Yukon.
For all not using an outfitter, it is important to report your trip plans to the RCMP in either Ross River or Norman Wells, and to check in with the RCMP at your destination.
THE MIGHTY MACKENZIE RIVER
The Mackenzie River is one of the great rivers of the world. Starting at Great Slave Lake, it curls north and heads straight to the Arctic Ocean, lying for most of its journey along the feet of the Rocky Mountains.
Follow one adventurer’s trip up the Highway of the North at http://www.acts.org/roland/mackenzie/
WATER SAFETY IN NORMAN WELLS : Tips for Anglers and Boaters…
- Always wear your life jacket.
- Don’t overload your boat with fishing gear, watch the waterline.
- Leave a Float Plan with someone on shore that details who you’re with, your location and your return time.
- Keep a lookout for obstacles and other boaters.
- If you have a dog in your boat, make sure it’s well-trained. If excited or startled by the splash of a fish, the dog could jump out of the boat and cause the boat to capsize
- Carry first aid supplies, extra clothing and protective rain gear–prevent hypothermia.
- NEVER wear hip waders when boating in deep water (they will fill with water if you fall overboard)
- Don’t fish or cruise with booze, keep it on shore.
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