The Making of the NWTRPA

 March 13, 2019
Posted by smiklosovic

In 2019, we’re celebrating the 30th anniversary of the NWT Recreation and Parks Association by looking back at the people, events, programs, and projects that have made the NWTRPA what it is today. March 14, 2019 is the 30th anniversary of the first Annual General Meeting of the NWTRPA. In this post, we look at what was happening in recreation in the NWT in the 1980s that inspired the creation of a professional recreation association.

The Interim Recreation Coordinator program was one way that MACA supported capacity building for local recreation leaders in the NWT. Native Press, 23 March 1989.

In 1986, Michael Yakabuski was hired as the Interim Recreation Coordinator in Rae-Edzo (now known as Behchokǫ̀). A recent graduate of Algonquin College’s Recreation Leadership program, Yakabuski had previously been employed by Nepean Parks and Recreation in Ottawa, Ontario. Yakabuski was one of a number of southern recreation professionals hired in the mid- to late-1980s in communities across the NWT. An initiative of the Government of the Northwest Territories’ Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA), Interim Recreation Coordinators were hired for a fixed term to serve as mentors to local people interested in becoming recreation leaders in their communities.

The newly constructed Sittichinli Recreational Complex in Aklavik, 1988.

The 1980s are considered the “golden age of recreation” in the territory by many in the sector. Under the leadership of Gordon Wray, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Kivallivik (1983-1991) and Minister for Municipal and Community Affairs (1985-1991), the GNWT invested $25 million per year to ensure that communities of all sizes in the NWT, which then included Nunavut, had recreation facilities, such as recreation centres and arenas, and staff able to administer them. To that end, Aurora College initiated a two-year Recreation Leaders Program (RLP) in 1986 that trained a generation of recreation coordinators, first in Fort Smith and later in Inuvik. The program was ended in 2009.

A student in
Aurora College’s Recreation Leaders Program takes notes, 1991.

Many of the southerners hired as Interim Recreation Coordinators in communities like Fort Providence, Cambridge Bay, Dettah, and Gjoa Haven, had experience with provincial recreation and parks associations, and they saw the utility in having a similar organization in the NWT.


In early 1988, Michael Yakabuski coordinated a survey of recreation leaders in the NWT to gauge support for a recreation association. Of the 36 respondents, 35 felt an “NWT Recreation Association was necessary for Recreation People/Professionals in the NWT.” Respondents identified networking, professional development, and advocacy as key priorities for the association. The results of the survey were shared at a forum of recreation professionals organized in conjunction with the 1988 NWT Recreation Conference. Facilitated by Mike Hanna, the former Executive Director of the Alberta Recreation and Parks Association, Michael Yakabuski, and Doug Rentmeister, then the Interim Recreation Coordinator in Dettah, the forum generated ideas about what an association for recreation professionals would do and who would be involved. Before the day was through, a steering committee was struck to create a “plan of action for the formation of an association.” The committee, which included representatives from Tuktoyaktuk, Iqaluit, Fort McPherson, and Fort Smith, would meet four times over the next year to lay the groundwork for a professional recreation association in the NWT.

This advertisement for the NWT Recreation Conference appeared in the Native Press on 10 March 1989.

On 14 March 1989, roughly two dozen people, including recreation coordinators and representatives of community recreation committees, gathered in the auditorium at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife for the first annual general meeting of the association. Peggy Curtis, the Recreation Coordinator for the Town of Inuvik, presented a name, mission statement, and objectives to the group gathered. Roslyn Smith, a Leadership Programs Officer with the Sport and Recreation Division of MACA, then presented the proposed membership categories and board make-up. With the exception of the name which was changed from Parks and Recreation North to the Northwest Territories Recreation and Parks Association, there was unanimous support for the vision and structure of the new association. Following the election of the first board of directors (see below), the meeting was adjourned.


Over the coming months, the Board of Directors for the newly formed NWT Recreation and Parks Association would register itself as a society, commission a logo, and develop committees for membership, awards, communications, and the conference.


In future posts, we will learn the story behind the NWTRPA’s iconic logo and we will meet some of the people that have led the association over the last thirty years. If you have a story to share from the NWTRPA’s past, contact Jess Dunkin ([email protected] | 867.669.8376).


First Board of the NWT Recreation and Parks Association

President: Max Hall (Yellowknife)

Vice President: Jim Gabriel (Fort Smith)

Secretary: Charlene Hill (Fort Franklin, now Délı̨nę)

Treasurer: Jackie Radley (Gjoa Haven)

Director at Large: Ron Cook (Hay River)

Director at Large: Peggy Curtis (Inuvik)

Director at Large: Mike Yakabuski (MACA)

Director at Large: Dan Schofield (MACA)

Director at Large: Kelly Mitchell