Yellowknifers: The Guide

Long before she was guiding tours through the streets of Yellowknife, Yvonne Quick had a more elevated view of the city, and the entire region. In the 1960s she was regularly criss-crossing the territory in bush planes, hauling them off to various places to be worked on. She became a permanent resident of Yellowknife in 1968. By 1970, she was molding a new generation of pilots in her own flying school. Some still fly the territory today.

At the same time that she came up to start the flying school, she also had a side job selling trailers. “There just wasn’t enough money in running a flying school to live on,” she says. After that, she became a general contractor selling modular homes. “I put in 28 homes in this subdivision,” she says, indicating her current neighbourhood  with a grand gesture of her arm.

Real estate wasn’t Yvonne’s only side-project. In 1971, while she was still in the flying business, she started up a funeral home, which ran until  1994, one of her longest running operations.

“When I started the funeral home, there were no seniors that stayed in Yellowknife. When people got old they’d leave. Lots of Yellowknifers went and lived in Northern Alberta and the Okanagan. Now, there’s a lot of seniors here. The GNWT is very good to their seniors, I don’t know of another place that’s as good.”

In 1975, she gave up the flying business, and started working as a guide at Arctic Star Lodge. It was at that same time that she built the house she now lives in, and opened up its top floor as a ceramics shop. She stuck around the lodge until 1981, when she bought her own lodge,  the Watta Lake Lodge, which she still owns. It’s operated by her daughter and grandson. The ceramics shop lasted until 1983.

Although she ended up drifting out of flying, it remained dear to her heart. From when she arrived until 1997, she ran the Old Town floatbase. Paintings of all the planes she owned there now hang on the walls of her home, and she points them out in turn as she names them. “We had a Beech-18, a Cessna-206, a Cessna-185, and we owned and operated the last RCMP Otter.”

Apart from her numerous business operations, Yvonne’s kept herself busy by joining associations. She’s a member of the Northern Frontier Association Board and the Mining Heritage Board. She was a board member of the Heritage Committee for six years, was on the Old Stope Committee for six years, and is also the coordinator of the Arctic Ambassadors program.

She’s lived here for 45 years, and seen a lot of things change in her time.

What are your earliest memories of Yellowknife?

There were about 4,000 people here when we came. Great place to live. Up until the last few years at least it was very safe. You could leave your keys in your car and your car open. You never felt unsafe.

In the late ’60s there were not a lot of native people in Yellowknife. Originally we were all Yellowknifers. No boundaries, no limits. There were a few that lived in Rainbow Valley (Ndilo). The start of Dettah, that changed a lot too.

I had 20 guides at the lodge from Snowdrift (Lutselk’e). Best guides you could find. They’ve all grown up and are part of the governments of the small communities.

What’s your favourite thing about Yellowknife?

The people. There’s a great bunch of community-minded people here. Where else do you know of where you can sit down at a coffee shop next to a minister of the government, a premier, or the commissioner of the territories, and know them on a first-name basis?

Where else can you drive on the highway and in twenty minutes be in an area that’s absolutely gorgeous? Or has lakes that are so clean and pure that you can drink out of them.

At Watta, the water comes from the lake. When we’re out in a boat, we just scoop a cup from overboard.

How do you spend your winters?

I spend my winters here. If I can manage to get away for two to three weeks in the middle of the winter, that’s good. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s nice when it does. In other places you hear about them suddenly getting terrible weather, but here you know it’s going to be -40.

How do you spend your summers?

I love the summers, I absolutely love them. I have a gazebo in the yard, and I just enjoy the outdoors. I’m a greeter at the airport for the fishing lodges that have guests coming in.

The daylight is just phenomenal. I can’t understand why people leave.

Here’s an event I’ve been in on from day one. In 1995 five of us decided to have a float plane fly in. It was Mike Paro, Mike Stevens, Jeff Roscher, Roger Zarudzki, and myself. Luckily, the City had just brought on an economic development officer, and the commander of the Department of National Defense up here was interested. That event, the Midnight Sun, has happened every other year since, for 11 years now.

What’s something you’d change about Yellowknife?

I don’t think it’s different from another other little town or city. There are things you don’t like. All in all we have a good city. You can see all the work the city has done to beautify.

A municipal government is a municipal government. A territorial government, same thing. Some good, some bad.

I don’t understand the big rocks they’ve placed around town. They can remove the rocks, I’d be happy.

What kind of opportunities have you found in Yellowknife that you don’t think you’d find elsewhere?

I don’t know that I would’ve done half of the things down south that I’ve done here. No funeral home, no fishing lodge. I wouldn’t have become a general contractor. I hate to think what I would’ve done if I’d stayed down south. The North has been so good to so many people.

Are you a Yellowknife Lifer?

Of course. I’ve spent more than half my life here. It’s my home.

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