With a new name and look, a non-profit collective dedicated to preserving Yellowknife’s past is forging ahead with an ambitious plan to breathe new life into a once-bustling community hub.
“We’re re-launching and re-branding and we want people to get excited about saving history,” said Yellowknife Historical Society president Walt Humphries during a meeting at Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre Thursday.
Along with the unveiling of an updated brand that reflects the group’s evolving vision, Humphries announced to the dozens of history buffs and antiquity aficionados in attendance that after years of hurdles and false starts, the organization – formerly known as Spirit YK and the NWT Mining Heritage Society – will move ahead with its bid to turn the old Giant Mine recreation hall into a heritage museum by 2020.
“Finally, with some certainty, we can say, ‘if the money comes in, we can get this thing up and running and there’s nothing stopping us,’” Humphries told Yellowknifer.
Faced with the shuttering of both Giant Mine and Con Mine in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Humphries and a group of like-minded nostalgists asked, “how do we save some of Yellowknife’s history?” Their answer – salvaging a myriad of mining tools, equipment and artifacts from each site – led the grass-roots group to amass a large collection of mining-related materials and memorabilia.
“We said, ‘OK, we’re saving all this stuff, now what the heck are we going to do with it?’ Well, we’ve got to set up displays and find a centre for it,” said Humphries.
The Giant Mine site, Humphries said, was soon eyed as a viable and appropriate location. But the road to meeting the society’s enduring goal of founding a museum dedicated to Yellowknife’s history was met with roadblocks.
After raising thousands in 2007 and 2010 to carry out emergency repairs on the recreation hall’s roof and wall, respectively, progress on the project was brought to a standstill.
“We got stalled by the Giant Mine remediation project for ten years. There was a period of time where we couldn’t do any work on the building itself because of the rules and regulations. That’s all settled so now we can go ahead,” Humphries said.
But with a price tag pegged at $1.2 million, going ahead with renovations won’t be cheap. To bring the museum to life, complete with a planned exhibit hall, tea room, gift shop and library, Humphries said the society is relying on corporate and individual donations and government funding – along with the continued support of volunteers.
Thursday’s re-launch also saw Humphries offer an overview of plans to establish an outdoor display area that would hug the exterior of the museum at the Giant Mine townsite and feature larger pieces of equipment and machinery. The site is already home to some exhibits, but additions – at a design and construction cost of $100,000 to $150,000 – are planned.
Altogether, the Yellowknife Historical Society aims to raise $1.5 million to complete the project within the next two to three years.
By re-purposing the storied hall into a place where family and friends can converge and unearth their city’s history, Humphries said the museum will give Yellowknifers a “sense of place, of purpose.”
Mike Byrne, a longtime member of the society, echoed Humphries musings about memories and the meaning they hold.
“It’s a touchstone. The rec hall was a centre of social activity at Giant Mine but not just for Giant Mine,” Byrne said.
With the site of the envisioned museum a close drive from the city’s downtown, the society hopes its presence will encourage spin-off businesses, boost tourism and act as a “focal point for the social, industrial and geological heritage of Yellowknife,” its website stated.