Exploring Canada: The NWT Legislative Building

On our visit to the Northwest Territories, a lovely lady named Vi at the 60th Parallel Visitor Information Centre told us that the NWT Legislative Building is a must see. It is conveniently located just down the street from the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. As luck would have, we arrived just as they were starting a tour, so we joined in. The tour was led by a summer student by the name of Marlisa. She is fantastic at the job. Very knowledgeable, articulate, and if she was reciting from a script you couldn\’t tell.

The building is beautiful. Compared to other buildings of it\’s kind in the country, it\’s brand spanking new. Built in 1993, it is the first permanent building for the NWT Legislature. Before then, the Legislature traveled around the Territory to perform their duties. One of the advantages of it being so new is that it was designed to incorporate as much of the natural landscape as possible. It was built using Zinc to endure the climate, and also because it is one of the minerals mined in the Territory. The interior was designed to include images and artifacts from all regions of the Northwest Territories. In fact two of the architects were from the Northwest Territories, and worked with an architect firm from Vancouver.

Unlike other areas of Canada, the Northwest Territories do not use the party system for the Territorial Government. Each of the 19 members of the Assembly run as an independent. The Assembly then elects the seven cabinet members and Speaker. The remaining members form the official opposition.
Another unique facet of the government is that they govern by consensus.

The Caucus Room

The Chamber

Pride of place as soon as you walk in the building are the old and new mace. The new mace was made in 1999, when the Northwest Territories was divided into the NWT and Nunavut. The mace is 1.5 meters in length and weighs 12 kilograms. It is filled with relief carvings of symbolic images reflecting the culture of the people. At the top is a diamond mined from Canada\’s first diamond mine, snowflakes, and an orb representing the \”land of the midnight sun\”. The crosspiece on which the orb and diamond sit is a crosspiece that represents the ulu (a native cutting tool), a teepee, and a house. It is a nod to not only the Inuvialuit and Dene/Metis cultures, but also to the non Aboriginal people who have made the Northwest Territories their home. Written on the mace is the phrase \”One land, many voices\”. It is written in 10 of the 11 official languages: Cree, Chipewyan, French, English, Dogrib, Gwich\’in, North Slavey, South Slavey, Inuvialuktun, and Inuinnaqtun. It also has bead work and porcupine quillwork. The shaft is a bronze cast of a narwhal tusk.

Throughout the building is artwork that reflects the culture of the native groups, as well as gifts of artwork from the other provinces and territories. A collection of AY Jackson from the Group of Seven assembled in one place sits in the caucus room. It depicts images of the NWT landscape. Two hallways have painted portraits of the NWT premiers, and the Speakers. What is unique about them is that the sitter chose what kind of portrait they would have and the artist. Some are traditional looking, while others have images of their particular constituency in the background.

This tapestry was a gift from Nova Scotia

To find out more about the NWT Legislature and the Legislative Building, you can look at their website here.

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