Aboriginal people lived off the land in the Deh Cho long before non-natives found and exploited the riches of the region.
Historians and archaeologists theorize the first inhabitants wandered into the Deh Cho (big river) more than 10,000 years ago, after the last ice age. For more than 2,000 years, the ancestors of today's Dene hunted caribou, moose as well as smaller game.
They also fished the flowing waters of the mighty Mackenzie River, using birch bark and spruce canoes, toboggans and snowshoes for transportation.
In the early 1700s, the fur trade was booming to the south. In time, it would push its way north to the Northwest Territories. As early as 1715, fur traders were heading to the northern reaches of Alberta. By the 1780s, after Sir Alexander Mackenzie's navigation of the Mackenzie River, the fur trade became a northern enterprise. By 1821, trading posts were popping up everywhere along the rivers and streams of the North - the highways of the fur trade.
The 19th century was a period of rapid change for the North, and the Deh Cho was certainly no exception.
With the fur trade and exploration, the region was opened to Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries who established themselves as far north as Fort Simpson.
By the late 1800s, the railroad had reached Calgary, gold had been discovered along the Alberta-NWT border and the Northwest Mounted Police began patrols of the north by dog team.
In the last years of the 19th century, the Klondike gold fields to the west of the Deh Cho were beckoning those with gold fever, many of whom travelled through the region to reach the fields of dreams.
Many, for whatever reason, did not finish the journey, staying behind to populate the small towns and communities of the Deh Cho and points beyond.
The early 1900s saw steam-powered boats on the rivers, followed by gas powered boats, which could make any journey faster, and more viable for business cargo.
Airplanes first began to make their way north in the 1920s, ushering in a new era of transportation and development.
By the late 1930s, airplanes were instrumental in surveying the area so that a winter road could be built from Alberta to Hay River. That road later became the Mackenzie Highway, which now stretches all the way north to Wrigley.
In 1942, the world was embroiled in the Second World War. With the war came a northern pipeline to transport Norman Wells oil to the Yukon and Alaska as fuel for the army.
To move supplies north for the building of the pipeline, the U.S. Army had to improve the winter road. They turned it into an all weather road by the end of the war.
While Pearl Harbour certainly isn’t in the Deh Cho region, the event would have a lasting effect on not just that region, but much of the Northwest.
Alaska suddenly became a strategic Pacific Rim location, leading to the development of the Alaska Highway. That highway ended at Fort Nelson, B.C. in 1949, and about 30 years later a short road from Fort Liard to the Alaska Highway was built, opening up isolated native communities, and a new access route to the Territories for travellers and entrepreneurs alike.