The Northwest Territories lie northwest of central Canada, bordered to the east by Nunavut, to the west by the Yukon and to the south by the northeastern corner of British Columbia, as well as the entire northern borders of Alberta and Saskatchewan. The name was originally applied to the territory acquired in 1870 from the Hudson's Bay Company and Great Britain: Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory. In 1880 Great Britain also transferred to Canada the arctic islands, north of the mainland, thereby adding to the territories. The acquisition of the NWT was a major component of the Canadian government’s desire, led by Sir John A. MacDonald, to construct a British nation in North America and to guard against the potential incursion of American settlers.
Nunavut, or “Our Land” in Inuktitut, encompasses over 2 million km2 and has a population of 35,944 residents (2016 census), approximately 85 per cent of whom are Inuit. Covering roughly the part of the Canadian mainland and Arctic Archipelago that lies to the north and northeast of the treeline, Nunavut is the largest and northernmost territory of Canada and the fifth largest administrative division in the world. Nunavummiut live in 25 communities spread across this vast territory, with the largest number, 7,740 (2016 census), in the capital, Iqaluit. The creation of Nunavut in 1999 (the region was previously part of the Northwest Territories) represented the first major change to the political map of Canada since the incorporation of Newfoundland into Confederation in 1949. Beyond changing the internal political boundaries of Canada, Nunavut’s formation represented a moment of great political significance; through political activism and long-term negotiations, a small, marginalized Indigenous group overcame many obstacles to peacefully establish a government that they controlled within the Canadian state, thereby gaining control of their land, their resources and their future. As such, the creation of Nunavut represents a landmark moment in the evolution of Canada and a significant development in the history of the world’s Indigenous peoples.
The name Yukon comes from the Gwich’in word Yu-kun-ah meaning "great river" and is a reference to the Yukon River. Lying in the northwestern corner of Canada and isolated by rugged mountains, the Yukon borders Alaska to the west, British Columbia to the south and the Northwest Territories to the east. Historically, it is indelibly associated with the great Klondike Gold Rush.