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Ted Mildenberger is used to strangers peeking in his windows.

"It's all part of living down here. People want to know what one looks like inside," said the 44-year-old musician, as he chops wood for his stove outside his home - a tiny plywood shack located in arguably Canada's quirkiest neighbourhood.

Known as the Woodyard, this waterfront shantytown is one of Yellowknife's last visible links to its roots as a scrappy mining camp dating back to the 1930s. Living is simple. Most residents now have electricity but no running water or plumbing. The city picks up their garbage and "honey bags" - plastic bags filled with feces and urine - every Monday morning.

Located in the city's Old Town district, the area used to be home to more than 75 hastily constructed shacks for many of Yellowknife's pioneers - the prospectors, the labourers, the people looking for adventure in the country's last frontier, the North.

But as the city has grown, many of these rickety wooden structures have either fallen down or been pulled down to make way for large modern homes.

Fewer than 20 remain.

And soon, another one will be gone. In the coming days, the city plans to tear down an abandoned shack that has been the subject of numerous complaints. Neighbours are worried it's been taken over by partiers and vagrants.

The planned demolition has sparked a debate in Northwest Territories' capital city about how to save this endangered piece of its colourful past.

"I know there are concerns about sanitation and stuff like that, but there are a lot of people who want to live in places that are kind of substandard," said Ryan McCord, a 28-year-old Ontario native who has been living in shacks in the Woodyard on and off for more than four years. "Life is simple and your neighbours are great. I'm in the city, but I'm still close to the land."

Mr. McCord's current shack is warm and cozy. It is the size of a small garage, with sloping plywood floors, and in certain areas the 6-foot-3 Trent University geography graduate has to slouch to avoid hitting the ceiling.

Mr. McCord, a part-time window cleaner, showers about twice a week at a local gym. He brings in the water he uses in his kitchen in large containers. "Nothing is wasted," Mr. McCord said, as he prepares coffee and scrambled eggs on a tiny propane stove.

His main source of heat is a wood stove. He has a propane heater for backup.

Most of his furniture is from the dump or was given to him, including an old upright piano he received earlier this month from an acquaintance.

His rent: $250 a month. The average rent for a Yellowknife apartment: about $1,200 a month.

Les Rocher, whose family owns and rents some of the shacks in the Woodyard, said a lot of young Canadians move up to Yellowknife and gravitate to the area because of its cheap rent and no-frills lifestyle. Most of the shacks in Old Town are located on territorial land. However, owners have been allowed to hold deeds to the buildings.

Mr. Rocher said the shacks will survive only if people want to keep living in them. "Either they are used or they will be torn down or basically fall apart," the 50-year-old developer said. "People don't need to be living in these big houses."

Even neighbours of the shack that's slated for demolition don't want to see them disappear entirely.

"It's not the shacks we had a problem with. It was the people and the noise at the one over there. It became a safety issue," said Marie-Claude Lebeau, a Montreal native who lives in a large two-storey home across from the abandoned shack near Old Town's Back Bay. "Shacks are a part of the spirit, the freedom, the pioneer spirit of Yellowknife."

Mike Bryant, a columnist and assignment editor at the Yellowknifer, a local newspaper, said the city must address the shacks' serious safety and health concerns for them to survive.

"God forbid if something terrible happens down there, I think it would be the beginning of the end," said Mr. Bryant, 36, who lived in shacks for about nine years.

Jeff Humble, Yellowknife's director of planning and development, explained that because shack owners never applied for a building or development permit, the structures aren't inspected. He said the city has no long-term policy for the structures, and they are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Bryant said the shacks in the Woodyard, which have nicknames such as the Bird House and the Silver Bullet, will likely last the longest because they are located in a swamp on the shores of Yellowknife Bay. "You couldn't build a house there even if you wanted to," he said.

Catherine Pellerin, chair of the city's heritage committee, said there are no plans to protect any of the buildings with a special designation. "Some of these shacks are in such a state that they can't be preserved," she said.

However, like most Yellowknifers, she doesn't want the expanding northern city of 20,000 to lose them. "The Woodyard is like a community within a community. It's a neighbourhood in the old-fashion sense of neighbourhood," she said.

Stan (The Man) Larocque has been part of Yellowknife's dwindling shack community off and on for decades.

Mr. Larocque, 88, currently lives alone in a small shack near Back Bay. "The Man" is painted in white letters on the front of his home that he bought for $600 about 11 years ago. A small model airplane painted bright orange hangs over the front door.

A grandfather, he has no interest in getting caught up in the debate surrounding the shacks.

"It has nothing to do with me," he said. "People can do whatever they want."

He gets water delivered by a truck twice a week and walks everywhere in his blue running shoes, including "uptown" to take a shower and visit his girlfriend and friends.

"I like being on my own," the Fort Smith, NWT, native said of his choice of lifestyle. "This is the way I want to live. I'll be here until I die."