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YELLOWKNIFE, N.W.T.—As the front-woman for the house band at one of the North’s most famous watering holes, Karen Single has spent many a night belting out pop tunes to a frenzied crowd at the “Strange Range.”
But none compare to a night two years ago when an unexpected guest hopped onstage to help out. “I had an elder, she must have been 90 years old, come up on stage. We sang ‘Thunderstruck’ by ACDC. Where else do you get that?”
“She was somebody’s grandma,” she says, laughing. But memories like those that hang in the balance as the Range’s future is called into question. Council is looking to redevelop 50th Street (known as “Range Street”) — a stretch of road that has long been an eyesore and a gathering place for Yellowknife’s homeless and intoxicated.
On Monday, city council met for a final vote that could change the future of the Gold Range Bar and Hotel and the street it stands on.
Two weeks ago, council brought forward a proposal to spend an expected $6 million to acquire the properties on the block, which include the Raven Pub — another bar on the street — a couple of restaurants, a convenience store, a smoke shop and a loan bank, as well as two vacant parking lots. Instead, they’d like to put in an eco-friendly housing development that “makes the downtown area more sparkly,” said Mayor Gordon Van Tighem.
Council voted on Monday to acquire the convenience store, the loan bank and one of the vacant parking lots, setting the stage for negotiations with the other businesses.
And although many in Yellowknife believe the street’s sorely in need of an overhaul, supporters of the Range say it’s one of the city’s last bastions of the rough-and-tumble frontier culture that defines its history. “It’s a tourist attraction but it’s aging,” says Van Tighem of the building’s imposing grey criss-cross facade.
Single, like many other Yellowknifers, has memories to spare about the Range, the most notorious bar in the Northwest Territories, where couples two-step to country tunes on the checkered dance floor.
“It’s where everybody goes. There’s a vibe there, you walk in the door, you just feel this happiness. It’s almost magical,” Single says. “There’s a history there. I know it doesn’t look pretty but there’s something special about it.”
The Range has a storied past: Mordecai Richler has been there, and it makes an appearance in his 1989 novel Solomon Gursky Was Here.
N.W.T. Premier Floyd Roland has been known to bust a move on the dance floor, along with a host of other prominent politicians from across the North.
But the bar and hotel have an undeniably seedy side: bar brawls on the street are frequent, and 15 years ago the RCMP busted a long-running gambling room in the hotel called the “Five Aces Social Club,” frequented by cabinet ministers and business owners. The bust later led to gun and sexual assault charges laid against a long-time resident of the hotel.
Started in 1958 as Yellowknife boomed with mining activity, the iconic nightspot was bought by Yellowknife businessman Sam Yurkiw in 1977 and known both for its rough reputation and the country music twanging out its doors.
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