Yellowknife Harbour Plan

Yellowknife, Northwest Territories

Photo Credits: Planning Partnership


Research by: Nicole Brekelmans

Edited by: Samantha Miller

Case study compiled in 2019

Project: Yellowknife Harbour Plan

Type of Urban StrategyWater 

Type of ProjectHarbour Redevelopment / City Smart Growth Plan 

LocationYellowknife, Northwest Territories

Date Designed/Planned: 2012

Construction CompletedOngoing

DesignerPlanning Partnership



Yellowknife Harbour Plan is a framework to revitalize the current Harbour bordering the Yellowknife Bay and River. The current harbour relies heavily on the water for recreation, tourism, transportation, and housing for floating homes. However, due to the lack of proper maintenance and zoning, the functions conflict with each other. The Harbour Plan addresses these issues along the waterfront through 6 guiding frameworks; natural heritage, parks/open spaces, trails, arts and culture, harbour uses, and neighbourhoods and districts. The guiding frameworks provide each function with its own space and use of the water through a clear and consistent strategy of zoning and programming. The waterfront provides multiple opportunities for recreation and economic development, and the Harbour Plan allows the harbour and water to be used more efficiently throughout the city of Yellowknife. 

(Planning Partnership, 2012)


Yellowknife Harbour Plan is a framework for environmental protection, sustainable transportation, and recreation along the Harbour of Yellowknife Bay and River. The Plan is made up of 3 stages, including the vision and framework, the conceptual design, and the analysis and construction design. Led by the firm Planning Partnership, the project’s main focus is to incorporate multiple perspectives within the design process through meetings, workshops, and focus groups. The plan involves 6 guiding frameworks; natural heritage, parks/open spaces, trails, arts and culture, harbour uses, and neighbourhoods and districts. The 6 guiding frameworks addressing the current issues of the current harbour allowing for more access to the public, provide more programming and create clear zoning within neighbourhoods and districts.

(Planning Partnership, 2012)


The funding for Yellowknife Harbour Plan is provided by the City of Yellowknife with $700,000 and CanNor (Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency) with $100,000.

(Planning Partnership, 2012)


The Yellowknife Harbour Plan focuses on the area extending from the mouth of the Yellowknife River in the north, the entire shoreline, and the southernmost boundary of the city of Yellowknife and Dettah. Along with this area, the plan considers further development and design of areas and districts such as Giant Mine Town Site, Back Bay, Latham Island, Jolliffe Island, Old Town Boat Launch, Woodyard to Rotary Park, Mosher Island, Can Mine Town Site, and Negus Point. These areas were studied and analyzed during Stage 1 of the Yellowknife Harbour Plan, providing more information and recommendations to create further cohesion within these areas and districts through the implementation of strategies for Yellowknife Harbour.

The initial state of the harbour included a livable mixed-use waterfront district, with an eclectic mix of neighbourhoods, informal settlements with temporary structures on the public land, and houseboats using the harbour year-round. These elements, although beneficial for residents, comprised the access of the harbour for the public and restricted the space for recreational activities. Through zoning and programming throughout the space, each function will have its own space, providing all the necessary elements within the harbour and waterfront.

(Planning Partnership, 2012)


Old Town and its waterfront along the Yellowknife Bay and River have been a major node of the city since Yellowknife became a functional community, and later a major city of the Northwest Territories. The water allowed for economic opportunities, transportation, and later became a residence to those living on floating homes. As Yellowknife grew as a city, so did the waterfront and its harbour; gaining more residents, users for recreation, and jurisdictions for the water. The overall growth of Yellowknife Harbour has created issues with public access, safety, and has created confusion and limited opportunities with multiple overlapping jurisdictions and mandates. The Yellowknife Harbour Plan addresses these issues by creating a mixed-use space, providing distinct zones and areas for each function to allow further public access to the water, while maintaining the residential areas for floating homes.

(City of Yellowknife, 2010)


The Primary concerns of the Yellowknife Harbour were:

- Intergovernmental/stakeholder cooperation - Public Accessibility to waterfront and public lands - Increased safety and awareness of conflicting activities (boats and planes) - Boat Launches, storage areas - Improved Maintenance - Protect heritage of Old Town - Clear consistent strategy – zoning, taxation, safety, environment, land - Crime Prevention through environmental design principles

(Planning Partnership, 2012)


“Yellowknife Harbour is the lifeblood of the city, its life source, gateway to the region beyond and year-round playground. It is the conduit among communities of people and the meeting point among nations. It has defined the culture and image of the extraordinary place. All stakeholders will protect, leverage, and manage the assets of Yellowknife Harbour to strengthen its vital function to the well-being and livability of the region as an ecosystem, economic generator, destination, community amenity and cultural resource. Yellowknife Harbour, through its enhanced public access, exposure and civic purpose, will become ever more cherished by all citizens. All Harbour users will be respectful of each other. All will share in its stewardship and ensure its continued health and legacy for future generations.”

(Planning Partnership, 2012)


The Yellowknife Harbour Plan was initiated in 2010, branching off from the Yellowknife Smart Growth Development Plan which is a holistic and long-term plan for the city of Yellowknife to move towards smart growth design and planning strategies that incorporate awareness of the environment, energy conservation, and healthy neighbourhoods. The Smart Growth Development Plan focuses on compact, and walkable communities, active transportation, and heritage. The Harbour Plan addresses active transportation through walking and cycling trails and emphasizes the culture and heritage of the space to create a strong sense of place. Later in 2010, the plan gained preliminary directions including the 6 guideline frameworks and review input from the government and locals.

(City of Yellowknife, 2010)


The Yellowknife Harbour Plan uses a system of 6 Guiding Frameworks as a basis of the urban planning and design strategies to increase environmental protection, sustainable transportation, and recreation. The 6 Guiding Frameworks include; Natural Heritage, Parks and Open Space, Trails, Arts and Culture, Harbour Uses, and Neighbourhoods and Districts. These frameworks allow the project to grow into a diverse and well rounded, incorporating all of the elements that are needed for successful design in Yellowknife.

(Planning Partnership, 2012)

Natural Heritage:

- Direct High use activities and development to less-sensitive areas or disturbed sites with restoration or enhancement potential - Develop and implement policies, site control measures, monitoring and impact contingency measures to protect groundwater and surface water quality - Integrate sustainable stormwater management practices into existing and new development areas - Require erosion/siltation control plans for new developments adjacent to shorelines, wetlands, and watercourses - Develop and implement management plans for ESA’s to guide development and recreational activities and protect sensitive areas - Promote through education and enforce regulations to mitigate potential water quality impacts generated by Harbour users

(Planning Partnership, 2012)

Parks and Open Space:

- Develop/recognize major green spaces as key destinations or nodes on the waterfront - Identity ice parks for programming of winter activity - Enhance existing/develop new parks along the waterfront - Reinforce the shoreline enhancement zone - Restrict leases for the private use of public waterfront land between Tin Can Hill and the Ski Club

(Planning Partnership, 2012)


- Develop three primary trails: Mine to Mine, Harbour Trail, and Yellowknife Bay Trail - Develop key connecting trails to link the lakes, Harbour Trail, and Mine to Mine Trail - Explore opportunities for small scale ferry/water taxi service between Old Town and Jolliffe Island - Develop a strategy to mark and promote awareness for the ice roads and winter connections of Yellowknife Bay - Develop comprehensive trail wayfinding/signage strategy - Establish an operating budget to ensure trails are well maintained

(Planning Partnership, 2012)

Arts, Heritage, Tourism, and Culture:

- Designate Old Town as an Arts and Culture District - Develop Jolliffe Island as a Heritage Park - Undertake a Public Art Strategy - Enhance the programming of festivals and events year-round - Incorporate environmental and heritage interpretive information on the three main trails - Enhance the identity of the cultural centres and reinforce the links among the centres - Support/develop interpretive information at Giant Mine and Con Mine - Establish an award program to celebrate and recognize local excellence in the arts, culture, and architecture

(Planning Partnership, 2012)

Harbour Uses:

- Undertake a market analysis to evaluate whether a marina could be supported - Optimize docking in Old Town - Develop a docking area along the public lands adjacent to Morrison Drive - Implement a moratorium on all new float homes, define a float home zone, adopt safety and building standards for float homes, explore long-term development of a marina-based float home community - Provide deep draft boat launches, provide boat launches for shallow draft boats, remove the current boat launches in Old Town - Provide canoe and kayak storage - Enhance the management of the Harbour - Develop a mechanism to improve education and safety of harbour users and awareness of and cooperation with others - Work with commercial and private plane operators to more clearly delineate the aerodrome and its limits

(Planning Partnership, 2012)

Neighbourhoods and Districts:

- Develop a planning framework, supported by character area-specific design guidelines, to shape change in neighbourhoods and districts according to the three categories on the Guiding Frameworks Plan - Prepare comprehensive plans for large scale areas for redevelopment - Prepare urban design guidelines for Old Town - Enhance the streetscapes in Old Town - Prepare a strategy for the evolution of informal settlements on public land in Old Town, including development concepts, tenure options, and planning/development controls

(Planning Partnership, 2012)


The Yellowknife Harbour Plan began with a committee to facilitate the interests of the governmental bodies to formulate a framework and was later taken up by the Planning Partnership. Planning Partnership provided multiple designers from different disciplines, providing a more diverse perspective for the project and its social, environmental, economic, and visual impact. The firm did extensive research through site analysis and collaboration with the public and the different forms of governments. With the collected information Planning Partnership developed a long-term 3 stage strategy and plan for the Harbour, breaking down all of the necessary and current components of the space.

(CSLA, n.d)


The programmed elements of the space within the Yellowknife Harbour include multiple interconnected trails for pedestrians and cyclists, docks and storage space for boats, specific and defined areas for floating home communities, interpretive centre, green open areas, ice parks and rinks, and waterfront parks for recreational activities.


The vision and framework the Yellowknife Harbour Plan provides the city with smart growth strategies to allow the waterfront to provide for everyone such as the government, the public, and its current residents. Through the Planning Partnership’s collaboration efforts, the plan incorporates the needs of the locals and different communities as well as the municipal government, creating a space for everyone to enjoy and experience.


City of Yellowknife. (2010, July). Smart Growth Development Plan Final Recommendations Report(Rep.). Retrieved June 5, 2019, from

Planning Partnership. (2012, May). STAGE 1 - BACKGROUND REPORT & IMPLEMENTATION STRATEGY: VISION & FRAMEWORKS (Rep.). Retrieved June 5, 2019, from

Yellowknife Harbour. (n.d.). Retrieved June 5, 2019, from