How the town of Inuvik got its welcome sign

At the end of the Dempster Highway, a big sign has welcomed weary travellers to Inuvik, N.W.T., in English, Gwich'in and Inuvialuit for more than two decades.

It's been greeting travellers at the end of the Dempster Highway since 1992

Max Morin designed and painted the sign in 1992 after moving to Inuvik as an RCMP officer. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC )

At the end of the Dempster Highway a big sign has welcomed weary travellers to Inuvik, N.W.T., in English, Gwich'in and Inuvialuktun for more than two decades.

Depicting the northern landscape, the sign is peppered with images that have begun to fade — an inukshuk, a family of caribou and a musher with his dog sled team, among them.

Max Morin designed and painted the sign in 1992. At the time, he was an RCMP officer in Inuvik.

"I always wanted to be an artist, but I also needed a career that paid money. So in 1980 I joined the RCMP," he explained.  

Morin served about seven years in Île-à-la-Crosse, Sask., then four in Fort Smith, N.W.T., before he was transferred to Inuvik in 1991. He said he and his family took the long drive up the Dempster Highway — stretching 740 kilometres from Dawson City, Yukon, to Inuvik — to get to their new home.

"For anyone that's driven that highway, it's an adventure," Morin said.   

"When I got there I said, 'Wow, we made it. Let's see the welcome to Inuvik sign and see what the population is,'" said Morin.

"And there was no welcome sign."

Max Morin says after driving the Dempster Highway to Inuvik in 1991, he was surprised to find that the town didn't have a welcome sign. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC )

Morin said he's always done art as a hobby, often teaching art classes to youth in the evenings.

"I was a policeman and an artist at the same time during my career."

After moving to Inuvik, Morin, who is from Canoe Lake Cree First Nation, Sask., said he began learning more about the Beaufort Delta's terrain and culture. He incorporated it in sketches for a welcome sign, one of which he took to the town's municipal office.

The Town of Inuvik held a contest to design the welcome sign, but it didn't get any submissions. The town commissioned Morin to make one.

"It was fun painting. I'd go there in the evenings and spend about four, five, six, seven hours on the painting for two weeks. And finally I was finished and they were happy with it," Morin recalled.   

"They put it up for me and I was proud to see it up there."

I was a policeman and an artist at the same time during my career.- Max Morin

The sign has been standing at the Inuvik end of the Dempster Highway ever since.

"I'm surprised to this day. And my friends that go visit Inuvik, they still text me or message me and tell me, 'Your sign is still up,'" he said.

But it might not be there forever.  

Grant Hood, senior administrative officer for Inuvik, said the sign is "showing its age" and the town is planning to replace it this summer.

Hood said the sign has been repainted several times over the years, and while it's had the same design since 1992, the town hasn't decided what elements the new sign will include.

As for Morin, he has hung up his RCMP uniform and is living in Beauval, Sask. He said he's still an artist, but his main focus is on the cultural healing non-profit organization he started: Green Arrow Healing Inc.

Morin hasn't been back to the Northwest Territories since he lived there in the late 90s, but he said he enjoyed his time there and hopes to visit again one day.

"I've always wanted to and maybe soon enough one of these days I will get a chance to." 

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