The Wildcat Cafe: rebirth 2011

The Wildcat in the mid 1950's when it was a storage shed.

The Wildcat Cafe was built in Yellowknife NWT in 1937 by Willie Wylie and Smokey Stout. It was one of the first eating establishment in the newly founded mining town and quickly became an integral part of the growing community. It was later bought by Carl and Dorothy Jensen and then Mah Gow, who ran it until 1949 when its doors closed, probably because of  a mass migration of residents “up the hill” to New Town. It was used as a storage house until the mid 1970’s when plans to tear it down were brought up by the Town Council.

In 1976, a group of Yellowknife residents quickly formed the Old Stope Association, a loosely knit organization mainly dedicated to saving the Wildcat. After 2 long years of volunteer efforts, the Wildcat re-opened for business in the summer of 1979.

Although the building was fundamentally the same, the staff and general ambience of the new Wildcat night have raised a few eyebrows with Wiley, Stout et al, had they been around to re-visit. Long hair, strange music and a very relaxed attitude to service dominated the first few summers. Gradually, the Old Stope Association developed the Cafe into a more organized and increasingly popular summer eatery.

The Wildcat has been recognized across Canada as a great place to eat and meet northerners. The Old Stope returned control of the Wildcat back to the City of Yellowknife in 1992, when it was designated an official Heritage Site, and since then several different management teams have run the cafe. In 2011, the City decided that it was time to completely renovate the log building, which had settled far into the ground and was leaning precariously in several directions at once. Rick Muyres of Norman Wells, the premier log buildier in the NWT, was hired to dismantle and then rebuild the Wildcat over the summer. With the help of Yellowknifers Andrew Spauling and Anthony Foliot, the building has now been completely taken apart, the pieces catalogued and numbered and made ready for reassembly.

The following photos show the painstaking dis-assembly process, which started on May 11. By June 4, the building was gone. Stay tuned to see how it all goes back together.

Work began on the roof on May 11.

Under the roofing were over 200 small spruce poles which were carefully removed and numbered.

Constuction detail of the wall and roof.

Andrew Spaulding removing the chimney. May 12

Piece by piece the roof was removed. May 13


The ever elusive Rick - in stripes.

May 14. Open to the air.

Anthony Foliot carefully removes the poles covering the chinking between the logs. May 14

Moss was the main chinking material used in the original construction.

The end wall with roof beam and twisted "oakum" which also filled the spaces between the logs.

Rick Muyers removing a log. May 16


All of the logs and poles were numbered so that they can be put back in the same order.

Most of the dining room is gone. The kitchen will be the next victim. May 17.

The bar. Burlap bags were also used to keep the winds from whistling through the cracks between the logs.

First the dining room went, then the kitchen. May 25

Many of the logs are stored across the road.

June 5. All gone. Now it's time to rebuild. Stay tuned.


About franhurcombphotography

I'm a photographer and writer based in Yellowknife, NWT, 62.5 degrees north latitude. I've been taking photos across the north for over 35 years. Some of my blog content is old....most of it new. My style seems to change on a regular basis, which keeps life interesting. Enjoy.
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11 Responses to The Wildcat Cafe: rebirth 2011

  1. cominco says:

    An excellent job of recording the events. You and Amamda should share your photos. Rick and crew doing an excellent job. Cheers, Cominco

  2. Paul Jones says:

    Great shots Fran. It’s amazing to see that great old building stripped down, layer by hisotrical layer. Looking at your pics often makes me feel like I never really left town.

  3. Laurie MacGregor says:

    Great pics Fran. I feel like I know the Wild Cat Cafe from when you talked about it so fondly during your stint as a waitress there.

  4. Gary says:

    I am planning a trip to Yellowknife in July 2012. Do you know if the Wildcat Cafe will be rebuilt by then? How is it progressing?

    • Hi Gary; the rebuilding process has been coming along nicely. They have stopped for the winter, but the walls are up and the roof on. I expect they’ll start again in the spring as early as possible and it’s quite possible that it will be completed by July. There’s lots to see and do in Yellowknife in July. Have a great visit.

  5. Gary says:

    Any new pics on the progress?

  6. Gary says:

    Any progress ??????

  7. maria eugenia de la vega says:

    …hi …, I supposed, that your name is Fran…; ?, so…, hi Fran…, do you have recently pictures of WILDCAT CAFE…….. I mean today ?…, “gracias amigo”….

  8. maria eugenia de la vega says:

    …, thank”s , so kind., to answer so fast ,…I will wait for photos….

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