The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is seen in April 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The NWT government, worried about its compliance with laws that dictate how documents are preserved, may solve the problem by opening a new building.
At the moment, the NWT Archives is storing a range of its documents at a government warehouse on Yellowknife’s Byrne Road that is not climate-controlled, as is the normal practice for facilities holding sensitive papers.
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly says that means a range of important documents – covering the transfer of authority from Ottawa to the NWT, the rise of Indigenous governments, land claims and more – are slowly degrading in a building “totally unsuitable for any long-term storage.”
“A lack of temperature or humidity controls places our archival records at considerable risk,” O’Reilly said in the legislature on Friday.
“Just think of the heat inside that building this summer. It would be unbearable – and definitely not good for paper records.”
O’Reilly worries that the territory may be failing in its legal obligation to maintain the documents as a result.
Even the main NWT Archives unit, which does have climate control, is housed within the 46-year-old Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, a facility already identified as needing a significant overhaul – or outright replacement.
Right now, there’s no money for a new building but there is a share of $490,000 in the 2024-25 budget for “minor improvement” work to both the main NWT Archives and the Byrne Road warehouse.
“The facilities that are currently being used to house all of the territorial archives are not at national standards,” finance minister Caroline Wawzonek acknowledged to MLAs on Thursday.
“This is meant to be, at this point, just a temporary stopgap measure in advance of a full standalone archives being a project that can be contemplated. But at this point, we do need to protect those cultural materials. So this is meant to be that work to get that process under way.”
On Friday, culture minister RJ Simpson said his department had drawn up various longer-term options, from replacing the entire museum building to pursuing “more targeted upgrades.”
“We understand better than anyone that there is an issue, and that we do need to pursue upgrades in order to meet our legal obligations,” Simpson said, adding that his department “will be pursuing a standalone archive building in a future capital planning process, likely in the 2025-26 fiscal year.”
“I’m excited about a new archives building,” O’Reilly responded. “I can hardly wait for the opening.”
“I don’t want the member to get ahead of himself,” Simpson cautioned. “Proposing that a new building be built and having a building have a grand opening are two very different things. So we’ll see what happens in the future.”