Our History

From Fish Camp to Modern Town

In 1892, Chief Shatla of the Slavey, decided to make the seasonal fish camp on the north east bank of Hay River a permanent location for his people. In 1893, the Anglican Mission was established. Hay River remained a trading post and mission station until the discovery of pitch blende in the 1930's close to Great Bear Lake and gold in the Yellowknife area. A road, which could be used year round, was required to access these resources.

A cat train road, usable only in winter, was cleared through the bush. The first cat train arrived in Grimshaw, Alberta in Hay River, Northwest Territories in April 1939. The road followed a trail used by the Dene for many generations. It is the old route taken by missionaries, free traders, miners, adventurers and surveyors looking for a shorter route from the Upper Peace River to the Mackenzie River. Slowly, improvements to the road were made in the following years.

In 1945, the Federal and Alberta Government sign an agreement to build an all-weather highway from Grimshaw to Hay River. That same year, the first commercial fishing began on the Great Slave Lake. The highway was completed in 1948. Yellowknife Transportations sold to Northern Transportation and goods began arriving by road to be shipped further north. Hay River became a trans-shipment centre.




The West Channel on Vale Island became the centre of the fishing industry. It was almost a community unto itself and went through a rapid growth period in the fall of 1949 as the fishermen and their families built their homes and settled in. Meanwhile, along the East Channel of the river on Vale Island, houses were being built, restaurants were opened, a hotel was built, and the Federal Day School was constructed. The Hudson's Bay Store moved out of the Dene Village onto Vale Island.


In 1963, the Hay River's annual break-up overlowed its banks flooding the Dene Village on the west bank and the Hay River town site on Vale Island. West Channel Village was not affected. The communities on both sides of the river moved their residences up river out of the flood plain. Many people didn't want to move. So, today we have the Old Dene Village, the New Dene Village, West Channel, Old Town and New Town.


*For More Historical Pictures, please visit our Photo Gallery

Please direct email inquiries to The Town of Hay River.