‘Urgent challenges’ spark plan to renovate, expand museum

The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre could receive a significant facelift to address a litany of problems apparently resulting from its original design.

The Yellowknife museum, opened in 1979, is the Northwest Territories’ primary repository of artefacts and documents, welcoming more than 60,000 visitors each year.

Now, the territorial government is studying how to renovate and expand the building to correct a range of “critical issues” and ensure it lasts for at least another four decades.


A request for proposals issued earlier this month describes a study the territory wants to undertake over the next year, looking at what the museum could look like and how much the work might cost.

“The ultimate goal is to create a fully functioning territorial heritage centre that accommodates a wide range of programming needs, responds to community interests, and is robust enough to last another 40 years,” the request for proposals states.

‘Mid-life upgrade’

While no budget for the study is outlined in the request for proposals, documents tabled in the legislature last month suggest $400,000 has been allocated toward the project – an unspecified portion of which will come from the federal government.

That money is for the planning alone. Any construction work authorized as a result would be expected to cost a significantly larger sum.

The request for proposals states renovations in the 1980s and 2000s happened on an “as-needed” basis with occasional, minor patch-ups in between, but “large capital funding for a mid-life upgrade has not been attained to date.”


In the document, no fewer than 18 separate “urgent challenges” presented by the current facility are identified.

They include:

  • a lack of storage space;
  • no elevator;
  • ‘crumbling’ infrastructure;
  • poor heating and air conditioning, inconveniencing staff and jeopardizing the preservation of items;
  • hazardous materials;
  • the lack of a museum store;
  • a lack of teaching space;
  • not enough room for travelling exhibits; and
  • a failure to meet modern energy standards, among other concerns.

Calling the present building a $32-million facility, the request for proposals squarely lays the blame for many of its issues on what is portrayed as an inadequate original design.

The territory wants the successful bidder to start work on a study in January 2019, in the hope of having schematics for a potential upgrade – and a price tag for the prospective work – ready by February 2020.


Polytechnic partnership?

This assessment of the museum comes at a time when the territorial government is already considering how to cost-effectively produce facilities to support a polytechnic university in the NWT – which the territory has now publicly committed to pursuing.

Education officials have implied much of the polytechnic may, at least at first, be housed in existing campus buildings currently used by Aurora College.

However, education minister Caroline Cochrane recently stated any significant infrastructure projects in Aurora College’s three campus communities should be looked at through the lens of how the polytechnic might fit in.

Responding to a question at a public meeting in Fort Smith last week, Cochrane said of the City of Yellowknife: “If they are going to spend $50 million on an aquatic centre, wouldn’t it have made sense that we would have built onto that and worked in partnership? Those are the things we’ve got to start talking on.”

She continued: “I think it would be great to have a public library … to have your arts … in your college, in your post-secondary. All those ideas, those are the things where we’ve got to start partnering together so it meets the needs of communities better.”

Any modifications to the museum would be carried out under the auspices of Cochrane’s own department, suggesting there would be no barrier to the creative provision of facilities for a polytechnic if the department so desires.

With files from Sarah Pruys