The first European contact in Northwest Territories has been speculated to be with the Vikings who were sailing the seas seeking the Northwest Passage into Asia. However, it has been documented that an English seaman, Martin Frobisher was the first European to set foot in this region in 1576.
After which, 1670 onwards, NWT was under the HBC (Hudson Bay Company- a fur-trading empire). The British government also allowed HBC to have control over a chunk of land beside it- Rupert’s Land. This British jurisdiction followed well into the 1800s, when the land was handed over to the Dominion of Canada, which was created by the Canadian regions in the south. As, they were handed the Northwest Territories and Rupert’s Land separately, the dominion decided to combine both regions into one, claiming it to be the new NWT.
Although NWT started off as a massive region, over time, it lost bits and pieces of its land as they became separate provinces or territories. In 1870, Manitoba was the first to separate from NWT, followed by Yukon in 1898 and Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba also acquired certain areas of NWT in 1912, drastically reducing its borders.
Historically, NWT generally remained remote and quiet. However, it garnered worldwide attention in the 1930s, with the discovery of radium ore. This discovery led NWT to gain importance in the global scene; especially during WWII, when the demand for uranium increased. NWT also became an area that housed the airfields and weather stations during the war.
After gaining such prominence during the war, the Canadian government finally turned its attention to the neglected region. The government started establishing a federal presence in the place, by dispatching the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and building facilities like schools and post offices. These works intensified in the 1950s, as mineral and oil explorations in NWT became profitable. Hence to facilitate trade in the area, the government started constructing railways and roads.
As economic activity increased in NWT, there was a need to establish a business centre in the region. Therefore, Yellowknife became the territorial capital. Following that, the administration of NWT that was being held in Ottawa, transferred to Yellowknife. Over time, the region’s mining industry expanded, withstanding significant economic tests, growing to be what it is today.
Another border separation occurred as the Eskimos in NWT requested for a separate political unit in 1982. Thus after a long struggle, on April 1st 1999, Nunavut separated from NWT. Following this incident there have been debates regarding renaming NWT and a number of aboriginal names have been considered. However, no changes have been made to the name till today.