The historic teepee in Fort Simpson will be getting an upgrade beginning the weekend of  Aug. 28 under the direction of the Liidlii Kue Dene First Nation.

The teepee, which stands at 17 metres, is believed to be the world’s largest and is located next on the Ehdaa Historical Site and papal flats, a historic gathering spot for local Dene.

The teepee, located at the arbour meeting place on the Papal Flats in Fort Simpson, will see a repainting job by the Liidlii Kue Dene First Nation.
photo courtesy of the Liidlii Kue First Nation

An original teepee was built in 1984 in preparation for the historic visit by Pope John Paul II in 1987. It was replaced in 2016 after the teepee was deteriorating.

LKFN initiated an effort to restore the original with the assistance of the GNWT Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI).

Pioneer Log Homes, a Williams Lake-based company, was hired and used 12 yellow cedar logs from the West Coast, one of which was more than 750 years old.

Since then, however, the wood has endured weathering and exposure to ultraviolet rays from rain and the sun which has required blasting and restaining to bring it back to its original form.

Madison Pilling, community tourism coordinator with LKFN, said work is going to be done by Ocean Pacific Log Home, a company based out of Vancouver Island. The project will be paid for with the assistance of a federal grant.

“Basically we are going to be staining the teepee because there has been wear and tear and we are finally getting the work done,” Pilling explained. “It is looking grey and it needs an uplift.”

The location is not typically used for gatherings anymore but draws many tourists and guests for the purposes of photographs and to commemorate the area’s unique character and history.

Olinto Beaulieu, stands with a drum within the teepee perimeter.
photo courtesy of the Liidlii Kue First Nation

Pilling said the structure is currently a natural wood colour but the company will be staining it harvest gold.

Saleem Khan, owner and operator of Ocean Pacific Log Home Restoration & Media Blasting, said his business typically does refinishing jobs for Pioneer Log Homes and other projects throughout British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan. He explained that his responsibility will be a tedious and delicate one, but part of his job is to ensure that clients and the public understand the work that is done because of the value of the material he works with.

“We sandblast… all the weathering off and the greyness that you see to get down to the raw wood and then put on a protective coating after the sandblasting,” he said.

The company has a two-week window to complete the project but Khan said the work should be done over a weekend.

“It doesn’t take long with raw wood,” he said. “While we are using a sandblasting method, we will not be propelling sand to strip the finish because actual sand is too abrasive. Instead we use a crushed glass product, which is ground down to a fine powder.”

Khan said the crushed glass will leave a finer finish because it doesn’t embed into the wood like sand and leaves a cleaner polish in the end.

Much of the UV damage comes especially in the month of August every year, so it is important to get at the project as quickly as possible, said Khan.

“We feel very honoured and lucky to have this job awarded to us and we are really taking it seriously,” he said.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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