The Floating Homes of Yellowknife Bay

Type “Yellowknife” into Google search and it’s likely that the houseboats on Great Slave Lake will appear. They’re a major attraction for tourists, a muse for photographers and artists, and a source of casual curiosity for local residents. They were even the basis of a short-lived Animal Planet reality series, Ice Lake Rebels. Slowly but surely, these unconventional abodes made their way into the heart of the city’s identity. The exact beginnings of the houseboats on Yellowknife Bay can be hard to pin down. They can be traced back to the early 1980s, when Old Town residents Gary Vaillancourt and John Alexander used old barrel barges and salvaged wood from torn-down Giant Mine dormitories to build floating homes. The men had grown frustrated with rising real estate prices and yearned for a space beyond the ever-expanding net of city regulations. They moored their barges next to Jolliffe Island — technically off municipal lands — where they were shielded from the wind and could live year-round. From there, the community quickly grew, and today 30 houseboats make up Great Slave Lake’s floating community. Some are retired marine vessels, but most are similar to tiny houses on metal or plastic pontoons. Heat and power are derived from solar panels, small wind turbines, diesel generators, wood stoves, and propane tanks, while water is sourced from the lake. The homes can be surprisingly spacious and modern, with some being more compact and rustic. When it comes to houseboats, there’s no one-size-fits-all. The market for buying a houseboat is rather informal. It’s done friend-to-friend or through someone who knows someone. Needless to say, the only way to access the area is by boat. In the winter, when the lake freezes over, a snowmobile is crucial to facilitating trips into town for supplies. All of the residents in the community agree that the pleasures of living on a houseboat far outweigh the perils that come with it.