Khaii Luk Tshik Territorial Historic Site
Statement of Significance
Khaii Luk Tshik, which means “winter fish creek”, is located on the north shore of the Mackenzie River about 120 kilometers upstream from Tsiigehtchic where Travaillant Creek flows in. The site encompasses about 200 hectares surrounding the creek mouth. Khaii Luk Tshik, also known as Travaillant Creek, was a thriving trading community during the early to mid twentieth century and in legendary times, a traditional trail head leading to the wintering country to the north. The site contains six recorded archaeological sites including existing buildings and graves. Some prehistoric locations have also been identified, but not explored. The site is located wholly within the Travaillant Lake, Mackenzie River/Tree River Conservation Zone identified in the Gwich’in Land Use Plan.
The history of Khaii Luk tshik extends back to an ancient time when people and animals could communicate freely and legendary figures travelled up and down the Mackenzie River. The site has seen mythical giants and medicine men roving by its shores, been passed by countless generations of Gwich’in heading out on the land, been visited by early explorers, watched the earliest trappers and traders travel past by foot and dog sled, housed a small trading community, and witnessed the influx of Europeans to the area. Even today, Khaii Luk tshik is important as a trail-head for Gwich’in travelling inland and a landmark for people on the Mackenzie River.
Khaii Luk Tshik was used by the Gwich’in since pre-contact times. When travelling to areas to the north, they would leave the Mackenzie River at Travaillant Creek and travel inland along well-established trails after freeze up. The Gwichya Gwich’in have a strong attachment to this location—from its use as a traditional trail head/camp site in the ancient days through its importance as a fur trade post—right up to modern times.
As trade on the Mackenzie developed, Travaillant Creek (once known as Trading River) was considered a desirable location and several traders set up stores there. Although the site was used for intermittent European trade at least as far back as the early 1800’s, in recent memory, the first actual trading post was established at Khaii Luk tshik by William Clark in 1927. Originally from Scotland, he married into a Gwichya Gwich’in family. He and his family built a store on the east side of the creek and lived there for over a decade. Bill McNeely then took over. About this time George Hurst built a post on the west shore which he later sold to Cliff Hagen. Travaillant Creek remained an active trading post until the mid 1950’s. Most of the buildings were of log construction but because building logs were not plentiful, most structures were made with drift logs.
The traders at Khaii Luk tshik brought their families with them and the post became more of a community. Children were born and raised there; relatives came and went. Many structures were built belonging to numerous families. Large gardens were planted to supplement the food supply and provide fresh vegetable for families and trade. These gardens produced a hefty volume and variety of produce. The gardens, the graves, the children, and the many visitors coming and going all contributed to the sense of community. Names like Clark, McNeely, and Hurst are familiar along the Mackenzie as descendants of these original Khaii Luk tshik traders made the Mackenzie valley their permanent home.
- A traditional, long established trail head and camping area for people travelling inland. Trails through this site connect different harvesting and use areas, named places, and special sites.
- An early trading location (Trading River) in the nineteenth century.
- A vibrant mid-twentieth century remote trading community with large productive gardens north of the Arctic Circle
- Driftwood log building construction; original materials and construction style dating to its occupation by the builders.
- The original location at the junction of two major travel corridors: Travaillant Creek and the Mackenzie River
- Several recorded archaeological and burial sites
- It is a tangible link to the oral tradition, place names and traditional practices which document and mark the place for the Gwich’in.
- Family names of the first traders are still reflected in the Mackenzie valley today.
- Gwich’in Land Use Planning Board, (2003) Nanh Geejiy Gwitr’it T’igwaa’in/Working for the Land: Gwich’in Land Use Plan. http://polar.nwtresearch.com/. Accessed 2 March 2010.
- Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute. 1992. The Traditional Use of the Travaillant Lake Area using Trails, Place Names of the Gwichya Gwich’in from Arctic Red River. (Alestine Andre and Ingrid Kritsch). Tsiigehtchic, NWT.
- Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute. 2009. Khaii Luk Tshik (Travaillant Creek). Nomination Document prepared for the NWT Historic Places Initiative by GSCI, report on file NWT Cultural Places Program, PWNHC, Yellowknife.