Pokiak Territorial Historic Site
Statement of Significance
Pokiak, also known as Old Aklavik, is located across the Peel Channel from modern day Aklavik in the Mackenzie Delta. It covers about a third of a square kilometer along the east bank of the Pokiak Channel. Although established in 1911 as a trading post, it is now included within the present day Aklavik boundaries. There are over 20 building footprints present. These are the vestiges of a once thriving settlement. In the past there were houses, cabins, warehouses, fish houses, smoke houses, stores, trading posts, and even sawmills. Today the site is lightly used as a fishing or recreational area. There is a summer music festival held occasionally called the “Pokiak River Music Festival.” No one lives there full time now.
The heritage value of Pokiak remains in its historical and multi-cultural associations more than the actual buildings at the site. The stories and storytelling about the site are key to valuing Pokiak as an anchor for those stories.
Pokiak originated as a Hudson Bay Company post built in response to increased trade competition from traders on the coast. Kenneth Stewart chose the site on the recommendation of Pokiak, an Inuvialuit man living in the area, and named it as a tribute to him. When the whaling industry slowed in the early 1900’s and trading posts on the coast closed, more Inuvialuit moved inland to Pokiak. Gwich’in people moved down the Peel River to live at Pokiak. This area soon became known as an excellent trapping area and a key transportation centre. By the 1920’s it was the major community in the Delta.
Unfortunately, with the introduction of steam ships and reliance on larger boats, the shallow docking at Pokiak became less desirable than that at Aklavik across the channel. A gradual migration of commerce across the river occurred. After this Pokiak became more of a residential community with a population leaning towards “on the land” people, trappers, non-government, and Métis while the Aklavik side was home to storeowners, religious and government organizations.
Pokiak and Aklavik have a unique history as it is one of the first times the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit co-existed peacefully. Elders from both groups remember early times as times of cooperation and helping each other. The whole flavour of the settlement was multi-ethnic, with Europeans and Canadians arriving in the north to trap, trade, build, and take jobs at new churches, hospitals and government offices. Pokiak highlights and promotes understanding about its inhabitants.
“Well, all I know is I grew up there, and, it was.. a great place. When we were growing up, all the people had a lot of respect for each other. And they helped each other.
Anytime I think of Pokiak I always think of all the good things we did, good times we had. …… I always think of that. …What a great, great way to live, in those days, you know? … But everybody did things like that, really helped each other.”
– (Tommy Wright, GSCI 2008)
- Original settlement of Aklavik; occupied from 1911 till the 1960s.
- Celebrates the multi-cultural spirit of Pokiak/Aklavik, a major social and economic centre.
- Subdivision where Gwich’in, Inuvialuit, Métis, and other people separate from the government town people lived side by side.
- It celebrates a spirit of sharing, good times, and hard work fondly remembered by many Aklavik Elders.
- The stories and memories of diverse groups working and living together have found a lasting place in Gwich’in, Métis and Inuvialuit oral tradition.
- It represents an important era in the Northwest Territories when immigration from other countries was adding to already culturally diverse populations and changing the face of the north.
- Provides a tangible link to oral tradition, place names and traditional practices.
- In light of the size of the community and the lack of structures remaining, the archaeological remains are likely to be significant to the site’s interpretation.
- Its location near hunting trapping and fishing resources.
- Gwich’in Social & Cultural Institute. 2008. Pokiak – Aklavik, Mackenzie Delta. Nomination Document prepared for the NWT Historic Places Initiative by GSCI, report on file NWT Cultural Places Program, PWNHC, Yellowknife.