To get oriented, head to the manager’s office (2nd floor) at the 17-story Mackenzie Place Apartment Building. Ask for a key and ride the claustrophobia-inducing elevator to the roof, where panoramic views of the Great Slave Lake, Hay River, and the boreal forest extend to the horizon.
The Diamond Jenness Secondary School (Riverview Dr.) was named for a famed Northern anthropologist and is undoubtedly the town’s most unusual structure. It was designed by Douglas Cardinal, an Albertan architect whose distinctive work is found throughout that province. Its curved walls alone would have made it a Northern landmark, but the choice of color for the entire exterior was left to the students—and they chose purple! (It’s known to locals as the “Purple People Eater.”)
Behind the school, the Kiwanis Nature Trail leads along the west bank of the Hay River (look for fossils) to various signposted points of interest, then across Highway 2 and along the West Channel to Great Slave Lake.
The boarded-up shop fronts, dusty streets, and empty houses of Vale Island belie the activity that still takes place along the waterfront. The large Canadian Coast Guard Base is responsible for all search-and-rescue operations in the western Arctic. And the facilities of the Northern Transportation Company Ltd. (NTCL), a large shipping concern, include shipyards, a dry dock, freight-storage areas, and a syncrolift—a hydraulic device that removes vessels from the water for easy maintenance (it’s one of only four in Canada; it can be seen to the right along 106th Ave.).
From Old Town, Mackenzie Drive—the island’s main thoroughfare—continues past a popular swimming beach and a radio observatory before it dead-ends in West Channel Village, a once-prosperous fishing community.
The beaches of Vale Island are very popular during summer, even if the water may be a little cold for most southerners. The best beach is within Hay River Territorial Park at the end of 106th Avenue, although those farther around the island are quieter. Anglers will find plentiful northern pike and pickerel in the Hay River.
Hay River Golf Club (13 km/eight mi south of town, 867/874-6290) is the finest course in the territory. It has nine holes with grassed fairways, artificial greens, a driving range, and a superbly crafted log clubhouse (well worth a look, even for non-golfers). A round of golf (18 holes) is $40. The course also has a driving range, and club rentals are available.