Northwest Territories History

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History[edit | edit source]

The Northwest Territories once referred to all the Hudson’s Bay Company land and Rupert’s Land, which were united with Canada in 1870. The Northwest Territories were organized into provisional districts in the following years: Keewatin (1876), Alberta (1882), Assiniboia (1882), Athabaska (1882), Saskatchewan (1882), Franklin (1895), Mackenzie (1895), Ungava (1895) and Yukon (1895).

In 1880 the Territories were augmented by the addition of all the North American Arctic Island claimed by Great Britain. In 1898 the Yukon District was made a separate territory. In 1905 the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were created.

An Order in Council, effective 1 January 1920, defined the boundaries of the districts of Mackenzie, Keewatin and Franklin. Since that time there has been a more recent change in the Northwest Territories. Namely, the Territory of Nunavut has been established. It encompasses the central and eastern Arctic regions and is nearly one-fifth of Canada’s land mass. The balance remaining is now the Northwest Territories.

S.M. Hodgson, Commissioner has indicated that on 18 September 1968 the transfer of the Northwest Territories administration from Ottawa to Yellowknife to place; i.e. ‘self-government.’[1]

You will need some understanding of the historical events that affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. Records of these events, such as land and military documents, may mention your family.

This information can help you determine significant cultural, ecclesiastical, and political events in the history of the Northwest Territories. Changes in geographical boundaries and ownership of land are especially important in determining where to search for the records of your ancestors.

Timeline[edit | edit source]

Some key dates and events in the history of Canada are:

  • 1577: Sir Martin Frobisher claimed Baffin Island for England.
  • 1605: Port Royal, now Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, was founded by the French in “Acadia.”
  • 1608: The French established the village of Quebec.
  • 1610: Henry Hudson was abandoned in James Bay.
  • 1670: The Hudson’s Bay Company was chartered by the English to compete with the French for the fur trade in western North America.
  • 1713: The English officially received peninsular Nova Scotia, but serious British colonization did not begin until 1749, when Halifax was founded. Newfoundland and the Hudson Bay region were also ceded by the French in 1713.
  • 1755–58: Some 6,000 French Acadians were forcibly removed from Nova Scotia.
  • 1763: At the close of the Seven Years War (French and Indian War), the Treaty of Paris confirmed British possession of two French colonies in North America, Nova Scotia (formerly Acadia) and Quebec (formerly New France).
  • 1769: Prince Edward Island was detached from Nova Scotia to become a separate British colony.
  • 1771: Samuel Hearne reached the Arctic overland.
  • 1774: The British Parliament passed the Quebec Act, which ended military government for the French Canadians. French language, law, religion, and custom were legally recognized in the Province of Quebec.
  • 1784: New Brunswick was separated from Nova Scotia.
  • 1789: Alexander MacKenzie followed the Lower Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean.
    1791: The old Province of Quebec was divided into two separate colonies, Lower Canada and Upper Canada.
  • 1812: The Red River Colony was founded by Lord Selkirk, who settled displaced Highland Scots in what is now Manitoba.
  • 1841: The Act of Union established a single combined legislature for Lower Canada and for Upper Canada.
  • 1850-1853: Discovery of a northwest passage.
    1867: The Dominion of Canada was created, uniting the four provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario.
  • 1870s: The Dominion of Canada stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans as new lands and territories were added. The provinces of British Columbia (1871) and Prince Edward Island (1873) joined the confederation.
  • 1885: The Northwest Rebellion occurred.
  • 1870–1912: Large portions of the Northwest Territories were later removed to create the provinces of Manitoba (1870), Saskatchewan (1905), Alberta (1905), and the Yukon Territory (1898) and to add to the areas of Manitoba (1880, 1912), Ontario (1912), and Quebec (1912).
  • 1903-1906: The northwest passage was navigated for the first time by Roald Amundsen.
  • 1918: The territories were divided into the Mackenzie, Keewatin and Franklin districts.
  • 1933: Radium was discovered at Port Radium.
  • 1934: Gold produced at Yellowknife.
  • 1947: Canadian citizenship was established separate from British.
  • 1949: Newfoundland became the tenth province to join Canada.
    Your ancestors’ lives will be more interesting if you learn about the history they may have been part of. For example, in a history you might learn about the events that occurred the year your great-grandparents were married.

Historical Sources[edit | edit source]

For a list of published national, provincial, and local histories, see What to Do Next, and click on FamilySearch Catalog. Select from the list of titles to see descriptions of the records with the film or book call numbers. Use that information to obtain the records at a family history center or at the Family History Library.

Canada Sources[edit | edit source]

These are two of many historical sources:

Morton, Desmond. A Short History of Canada. Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1983. (FHL book 971 H2md.)

MacNutt, W. S. The Atlantic Provinces: The Emergence of Colonial Society, 1712–1857. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1965. (FHL book 971.5 H2mws.)

Encyclopedias also include excellent articles on the history of Canada. Many books and articles on Canadian history are listed in these annotated bibliographies:

Muise, D. A., ed. A Reader’s Guide to Canadian History. I. Beginnings to Confederation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. (FHL book 971 H23r v. 1.)

Granatstein, J. L., and Paul Stevens, eds. A Reader’s Guide to Canadian History. II. Confederation to the Present. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982. (FHL book 971 H23r v. 2.)

Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Local histories are some of the most valuable sources for family history research. They describe the settlement of the area and the founding of churches, schools, and businesses. You can also find lists of early settlers, soldiers, and civil officials. Even if your ancestor is not listed, information on other relatives may provide important clues for locating your ancestor. A local history may also suggest other records to search.

Published histories of towns, counties, districts or other municipalities, and provinces often contain accounts of families. Many district, county, and town histories include sections or volumes of biographical information. These may give information on as many as half of the families in the area. A county history is also the best source of information about a county’s origin.

The Family History Library has about 300 district histories from the Prairie Provinces and fewer township and county histories from the rest of Canada. Similar histories are often at major Canadian public and university libraries and archives.

For descriptions of bibliographies for Northwest Territories available through Family History Centers or the Family History Library, see What to Do Next, and click on FamilySearch Catalog. Look under BIBLIOGRAPHY or HISTORY - BIBLIOGRAPHY.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Murphy, Sharon L. "Northwest Territories Birth, Marriage, and Death Records (National Institute)," National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012),,_Marriage,_and_Death_Records_%28National_Institute%29.