The history of Hay River dates back to the 19th century when Hay River was (and still is) an ideal location for fishing. Since then our little town has expanded into other industries such as business, commercial and transportation.
Dating back to 1892 Chief Shatla of the Slavey Dene decided to make the north east side of the bank of Hay River a permanent location for his people as this area was a prime location for fishing. In 1893, the Anglican Mission was established and Hay River would remain a trading post and mission station until pitchblende (uraninite) and gold were discovered in the 1930’s in the surrounding areas (Yellowknife and Great Bear Lake).
Expansion During the 1930’s & 40’s
As the town began to grow a road was required to access resources in the surrounding area all year round. A cat train, which could only be used during the winter, cleared a trail through the bush. This road followed the path that had traditionally been used the by the Dene for generations and now was also used by missionaries, miners, free traders, adventurers, and surveyors.
In 1945 an agreement was signed between the Federal and Alberta Government to build an all-weather highway from Grimshaw, Alberta to Hay River, Northwest Territories. This highway was completed in 1948 and would be known as the Mackenzie Highway, the main road to ship goods further north. Thus, Hay River became the “Hub of the North”.
The West Channel located on Vale Island became the centre of the fishing industry and in 1949 it underwent a rapid growth period as fishermen and their families built their homes and settled in the area. During this time period the East Channel of Vale Island was also experiencing growth as houses were built, restaurants were open, the Federal Day School was constructed, and the Hudson`s Bay Company moved from the Dene Village (across from Vale Island) onto Vale Island.
The Great Flood
Every spring the water levels would rise and in 1963 the East Channel of Vale Island and the Dene Village were flooded. As a result of the damage the town was relocated further up the river to higher ground. However, many people did not want to move so today there are still houses located in the West Channel, the rest of Vale Island, and the (Old) Dene Village.
Economic Growth in the 1970’s
The 1970’s was a time of economic growth for Hay River and the surrounding area because of oil exploration. This exploration led to an increase in shipping activity, which increased Hay River’s role as a leading supply centre for such development. During the end of the 1970’s agriculture began to emerge because of a land freeze that was lifted on 3,200 acres of land by the federal government. This led to further development in Hay River.
1980’s and Tourism
Due to the increase in traffic from visitor’s travelling north the Hay River Visitor’s Centre was opened in 1984. The Visitor Centre became a ‘hub’ all on its own as it provided information about our history, culture as well as services to visitors. Today, our Visitor’s Centre is still open and continues to provide the same experience now as it did then.