The Tin Can Hill Polytechnical University, or TCH-PU for short, might look good on a T-shirt and has certain homey charm to it.

After all, the hill is a historic, cultural and archeological significant site. Some could argue that it was the town’s first true garbage dump.

People could write a few legends of Tin Can Hill. Like the story of a mouse and her family who lived in a can on top of the hill and had lived there for countless generations in peace and harmony. That is, until the bulldozers turned up one day, because it seems the city does have a passion for blowing up outcrops. It is rather ironic that some of the same people who hate mining love blowing up outcrops for building sites.

Once upon a time, not all that long ago, if a town had people in it who wanted something, be it a hockey rink, a local museum or better equipment for the school, they would organize themselves. They would form some sort of committee and start raising money and gather support. They would get donations of materials and in-kind services from local companies and businesses. Eventually they had enough money and would build it as a much-loved community project.

It was a bottom-up form of democracy. Those days seem to be past because politicians and governments seem to want to control everything themselves and they tax everyone excessively and then decide, often with little or no consultation, what gets built, where and when. Basically, they force things upon people without even involving them.

Now the city has committed taxpayers to paying for a big new pool, we got a new hospital that we neither own nor operate, the airport is looking at a new terminal and now a whole university is in the works. All paid for at taxpayers’ expense.

It is time to get creative, to think Northern and outside of the mental jail that governments love to put people into. A few years ago, the GNWT bought Northern Transportation Company Ltd. and if you visit beautiful Hay River, you will see a whole lot of boats and barges that are just slowly rusting away. So, hire a few instructors and get some students and start the open-air university by fixing up all those boats and barges.

When they are lake-worthy, bring them across Great Slave Lake to Yellowknife and winch them up a slide or truck them up to Frame and Jackfish lakes, then using primarily materials salvaged from the dump turn them into one of the world’s first floating universities made almost entirely of repurposed and salvaged material. It would be a great hands-on learning experience for all involved.

Think of the advantages. You are not taking up any land or blasting any rock. You don’t have to worry about flooding because it floats. It would be stable and environmentally friendly. It would be stunning and the first of its kind anywhere. Located on the northern bay of Frame Lake, it would provide a spectacular view of a northern Precambrian lake surrounded by boreal forest and would be a part of the legislature preserve. Not only are you repurposing and reusing a whole bunch of barges and boats, but the legislature would have a great view of what they have created.

It would be built almost entirely by the teachers and students with volunteer labour from politicians and the public so it would truly be a community project. Not only that, you could outfit a few barges for a mobile outreach program and visit most of the Northern communities on Great Slave Lake and along the Mackenzie River and the Arctic Ocean. It could be called the mobile voyageur campus. You can’t get much more Northern than that, and it would cost a fraction of what the government will spend. Best of all, the entire NWT would be involved and it would be a real community project. Wouldn’t that be an exercise in community-building?

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