Hay River, Northwest Territories, incorporated as a town in 1963, population 3,169 (2021 census), 3,528 (2016 census). The town of Hay River is located on the south shore of Great Slave Lake at the mouth of the Hay River, about 200 air km southwest of Yellowknife.
The original homeland of the South Slavey Dene, Hay River first became permanently settled in 1868 with a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. Anglican and Catholic missions soon followed. St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church, built 1938–40 on the original mission site in K’atl’odeeche First Nation (see Hay River reserve), is still used.
The present community dates back to the postwar construction of the Mackenzie Highway. The community became an important transportation and communications centre. Known as “the hub of the north,” it is the staging point for the shipping industry up the Mackenzie River and also the centre of the Great Slave Lake commercial fishery.
In 1963, a serious flood at the old townsite required the evacuation of the entire population and the creation of a new townsite upriver. In 1964, the completion of a Canadian National Railway link stimulated the community’s economy. Today, Hay River remains one of the few communities in the Northwest Territories that is largely dependent on private enterprise.