The history of Northwest Territories capital cities begins with the purchase of the Territories by Canada from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1869 and includes a varied and often difficult evolution. Northwest Territories is unique amongst the Canadian province or territory in that it has had seven capital cities in its history. The territory has changed the seat of government for numerous reasons, including civil conflict, development of infrastructure, and revised territorial boundaries.
The result of these changes has been a long and complex road to responsible government. Effectively providing services and representation for the population has been a particular challenge for the Territories' government, a task often complicated by the region's vast geographic area. A small number of communities in Northwest Territories have unsuccessfully tried to become the capital over the years. The territory has had the seat of government outside of its territorial boundaries twice in its history. The only other political division in Canada without a seat of government inside the territorial boundaries was the defunct District of Keewatin that existed from 1876 until 1905.
The term "capital" refers to cities that have served as home for the Legislative Assembly of Northwest Territories, the legislative branch of Northwest Territories government. In Canada, it is customary for provincial and territorial level government to have the civil service administer from the same city as the legislative branch and executive branch. The Northwest Territories, however, had an administrative capital and a legislative capital officially exist between 1911 and 1967. This is the only province or territory in Canadian history to have had such an arrangement.
In the early 1980s, the territory began a process that would see it divide itself. A new capital was needed for the brand new territory of Nunavut created out of the eastern half of the Northwest Territories as they existed from 1911 to 1999. Lessons were learned from the past changes in the seat of power, and a referendum was put to the territorial residents.