The story of Yellowknife is, at least in part, a story of poor access to one of the largest freshwater bodies of water in North America.
Much of this reality is due to a mixture of unfortunate factors that have built up over time, including haphazard and poor community planning, and quirks of geology. The best access points to Great Slave Lake – and there are not many of them – were gobbled up quickly once gold was discovered near Yellowknife in 1934. They have been largely sealed off from the public ever since, and no amount of arm-twisting by city hall has been able to free them.
Geographically, the city has not been dealt the best hand, and we’re not talking about being North of 60. Yellowknife’s Canadian Shield shoreline is either prohibitively shallow and reefy, such as Willow Flats, or too steep, as in Tin Can Hill. Sheltered areas are also few, ruling out even more possibilities for recreational access.
Other than the Giant Mine Boat launch at Back Bay and the single-lane launch on McDonald Drive in Old Town, boaters are mostly cut off from the city’s shoreline.
That is why last month’s decision by the city to begin examining the costs of assuming ownership of Commissioner’s land along the shore at the former Con Mine property is so significant. Given that the next phase of Giant Mine cleanup is expected to begin in 2021, it’s imperative the city get to work now.
Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, which is responsible for cleaning up the abandoned Giant Mine site, acknowledged in January that the public boat launch there, as well as Great Slave Sailing Club next door, will likely need to be shut down while it remediates the shoreline of contamination – possibly for years.
While the Giant Mine site, with its relative shelter from prevailing winds, sufficient water depth and parking availability, remains hands down the best location to launch a boat and access Great Slave Lake, Con Mine would rank at least second.
The dock there is not well protected from north winds, but properly prepared, this access point could be made suitable. It will have to serve. There are really no other options on Yellowknife Bay – not unless the city intends to blast a road past Kam Point.
Demand for recreational boating access is increasing. The Giant Mine boat launch, constructed by the city in 2001, is often crowded to over-capacity on busy summer weekends. The Old Town launch lacks suitable parking. Growing tourism in the city is also putting pressure on city waterfront access.
The city has taken heat for buying up properties on 50 Street downtown but that’s because it didn’t have a coherent plan for those properties. The situation – and the needs – are much different when it comes to Con Mine.
Regardless of what happens at Giant Mine, and for how long the boat launch there remains off-limits, the city needs a third boat launch.
From our perspective, the Con Mine location is the only reasonable option.