The Records of the NWT Archives

Government Records

Records of the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) shed light on institutional practices and policies, provide evidence of past activities, document the constitutional development of the Northwest Territories, and allow citizens to hold the government accountable for past decisions.

Our governance records go as far back as 1888, when the NWT encompassed a larger area, including present-day Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon, the entirety of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and portions of Manitoba, Québec, and Ontario. Other early holdings include records generated by the Territorial Council from 1921 to 1951 and records from the Carrothers Commission.

From 1923 to 1971 the Northern Administration Branch, a division of the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, played a strong role in administering the Northwest Territories. The NWT Archives has 44 metres of textual records created and accumulated by the branch and its various predecessors from 1923 to 1971. The majority of files date between 1949 and 1967 and incorporate correspondence, reports, vital statistics information, financial data, and minutes.

In 1967, the administrative offices moved from Ottawa to the newly established capital city of Yellowknife, effectively transferring various governing powers to the Northwest Territories. As a result, the Government of the Northwest Territories was established. Since this date, the NWT Archives has acquired regular transfers of records generated by the departments of the Government of the Northwest Territories. The NWT Archives staff works to ensure these records are accessible to the public, but there is often a lag from the time records are created to when they are received by the archives. Consequently, records of relatively recent origin are typically in the custody of creating government departments. Please be advised that access to government records is governed by the Access to Information and Privacy Act. For more information contact archives staff.

Records from Private Donors

In addition to government records, the NWT Archives acquires records created by individuals and organizations in the Northwest Territories that shed light on the everyday life and activities of NWT citizens. These include organizations such as the City of Yellowknife, the Town of Hay River, and private citizens such as politician and businessman Robert (Bobbie) Porritt, former teacher Mary Saich, and former NWT Commissioners John Parker and Stuart Hodgson. We preserve records of businesses such as Giant Mine as well as the NWT Chamber of Mines. Activities of unions are well represented, with records from the Union of Northern Workers and the Canadian Auto Workers. Records from organizations such as the Fort Resolution Community Education Council and the NWT Council for the Disabled are in our holdings as well.

The archivists at the NWT Archives work to acquire materials from private sources that provide a rich representation of a multiplicity of cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. The records of a wide variety of private organizations involved in a range of activities (e.g. educational, cultural, hobbyist) in the NWT have also been acquired by the NWT Archives.


There are approximately 600,000 photographs in our collection. While our photographs date from the turn of the 20th century until the 2000s, most were created between 1950 and 1990. Some of our earliest collections include those of Norman Robinson (1914-1924). Significant collections from the 1930s and 1940s include Bishop Archibald Fleming. Images created by Henry Busse provide thorough coverage of Yellowknife during the 1950s. Felix Labat, Robert C. Knight, and June Helm provide a further glimpse of the Northwest Territories at a time of change during the 1950s and 1960s. The photographs of Gwich’in photographer James Jerome provide a view of life through a Dene lens in the 1970s. Rene Fumoleau’s 15,000 images taken throughout the territory from the 1950s through to the 1990s are an excellent source of information. This is just a very small sample of the hundreds of photographers represented in our collection.

Film and Video

A large portion of our film and video materials were created by the GNWT’s Radio and Television Services Division in the Department of Education, Culture and Employment. The NWT Archives also has film from professional and amateur filmmakers. There is a variety of unique productions about northern subjects and traditional knowledge, as well as coverage of major political and social events in the NWT. For example, there is a series of videos produced by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism entitled Dene Arts and Crafts. Other notable holdings include films by Rene Fumoleau (Dene Nation and I Was Born Here), Goldi Productions (They Fish the Great Slave and Dene Family), and Arthur Pape (The Inquiry, about the Berger Inquiry).


Oral history interviews play a significant part in the documentation of the history of the NWT, and often feature Indigenous languages. Our earliest oral history recordings were made in Fort Good Hope and feature Dene chants recorded in 1957. We have hundreds of recordings from the Committee for Original Peoples’ Entitlement (COPE) oral history project. Academics such as anthropologist June Helm and the staff of the Summer Institute of Linguistics have also generously donated recordings created during their research. Due to the sensitive nature of the content of some oral history recordings, restrictions on access may apply.


Our holdings of maps and architectural records are not extensive. There are numerous settlement maps, a map outlining the “Mackenzie boundary” when it was first proposed to split the NWT in the 1960s, Department of Interior maps predating 1930, maps related to the mining industry (e.g. claims), survey maps by John Anderson Thompson, and a few marine navigational maps. Our holdings also contain a number of architectural plans, including plans for Inuvik Catholic student residence Grollier Hall, and site maps of towns and cities such as Hay River, Inuvik, and Yellowknife.

More Information

Please refer to our Documentation Framework for more information on the acquisition policy and objectives of the NWT Archives.