It isn't part of the northwest passage, but it's good to have a place to keep the boats in the winter, and a base to do maintenance, etc. also, people live up there. That's the best way to move food, trucks, snowmobiles, fuel, library books, livestock (maybe?), and generators. You can truck it to Hay River, then deliver it anywhere by boat. Or used to be you could. If you're going to have SAR, tugs, pilots, pollution response, and that kind of thing available for breakup, you might think that Hay River is a good base.
If you're curious about the kinds of traffic that the river takes, check out this fleet: http://www.ntcl.com/operations/fleet/. Beauty, right? Can you believe it's for sale? Such a deal.
Until recently, there was also a B&B style river cruise that was much loved. I'm sorry that I never got a chance to do that before the owners retired to tropical Alberta.