NWT, 1989

 February 26, 2019
Posted by smiklosovic

2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the NWT Recreation and Parks Association. In honour of this milestone, we’re looking back at the people, events, programs, and projects that have made the NWTRPA what it is today! In today’s 30th anniversary post, we’re travelling back in time to 1989 to see what was happening in the NWT the year the NWTRPA was founded.

Hairstyles in 1989 were bigger than today, and so was the territory. At 3.439 million km2, the NWT, a decade before division, was more than twice its current size (1.346 km2). The population of 57,226 people was spread across 61 communities (today, the population of the NWT is 44,520 and we have 33 communities).

NWT Archives/©Northwest Territories. Department of Public Works and Services fonds/G-1995-001:

If you turned on the radio in 1989, you were likely to hear Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” “Good Times” by Tom Cochrane and Red Rider, “Love Shack” by the B-52s, Dolly Parton’s “Yellow Roses,” “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Duty” by Kim Mitchell. (Check out our Spotify playlist to listen to these hits and more!)

Most people in the NWT were probably tuning into CBC Television in 1989, as few residents had satellite dishes or cable. Popular CBC shows that year were Danger Bay, My Secret Identity, The Raccoons, and Street Legal. Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Dead Poets Society, Field of Dreams, and When Harry Met Sally were the big hits of the year at the box office.

The 1989 film poster for Batman.

Hockey fans may recall that Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins was the NHL’s leading scorer in the 1988-1989 season. Wayne Gretzky, having just finished his first season with the Los Angeles Kings, was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy for being the league’s most valuable player. Other notable moments in sport from 1989? Canadian Kurt Browning was named the Men’s World Champion at the World Figure Skating Championships; Pete Rose was handed a lifetime ban from baseball for gambling; and Kareem Abdul-Jabar, still the all-time points leader in the NBA, retired from basketball.

Kurt Browning of Canada reacts after his victory in the men’s original program for the World Figure Skating Championships at the Paris Bercy stadium Mar. 15, 1989. (CP PHOTO/ Paul Chiasson)

In homes and workplaces across the territory, conversations about the Stanley Cup playoffs (the Calgary Flames beat the Montreal Canadians, 4-2) took place alongside discussions of the Dene-Métis Land Claim. An agreement-in-principle had been signed between the Dene/Métis people, the Government of Canada, and the Government of the Northwest Territories in 1988. Negotiations that begun that year continued through 1989 until the claim fell apart in 1990 and different groups pursued regional claims instead (visit this site for an overview of settled and ongoing claims in the NWT).

There was also talk in the territory in 1989 about the controversial new seatbelt law. Beginning on April 1, NWT residents had to “buckle up or pay up.” The fine if you were caught riding without a seatbelt was $35.

The government that passed that legislation looked a little different than the one we know today because the NWT didn’t have a legislative assembly or a premier in 1989. Until the current building was completed in 1993, MLAs met in different places around the territory, including school gymnasiums, banquet halls, and hotel board rooms in communities like Inuvik, Frobisher Bay, Fort Smith, Yellowknife, Rankin Inlet, and Norman Wells. The title of premier was also not officially adopted until 1994. In 1989, the chairperson of the Executive Council of the NWT was known as the Government Leader and that position was held by Dennis Patterson, who served as the MLA for Frobisher Bay and Iqaluit from 1978 to 1995.

NWT Archives/©Northwest Territories. Department of Public Works and Services fonds/G-1995-001:

Both of the NWT Members of Parliament in 1989 were Liberals, though the Conservatives, led by Brian Mulroney, held the balance of power in the House of Commons. Jack Anawak represented Nunatsiaq, while Ethel Blondin represented the Western Arctic. When Blondin was elected in 1988, she became the first Indigenous woman elected to Parliament. Important national issues in 1989 included the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, the Meech Lake Accord, and the GST.

Ethel Blondin, NWT Member of Parliament representing the Western Arctic and the first Indigenous woman elected to Parliament.

Other notable events that took place in 1989:

  • Tamarack was designated the territorial tree.
  • The NWT Literacy Council was founded.
  • The Canadian Space Agency was created.

What do you remember from 1989? Send an email to the NWTRPA’s resident historian, Jess Dunkin ([email protected]), with your memories.