The NWT government has issued its first document setting out in any detail why Tin Can Hill is considered a prime site for a university campus.
Territorial officials and the education minister have backed the idea of a Tin Can Hill campus in presentations and speeches, without making clear how the site was evaluated versus other options.
While the City of Yellowknife has now signed a memorandum of understanding earmarking Tin Can Hill as the “intended site” of a campus, Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby summed up the feelings of some residents when she stated this month: “It seems to be a bit of a habit that things become a done deal before we’re ever asked about them.”
The NWT government’s first printed rationale for selecting Tin Can Hill and rejecting other sites was issued this week in a quarterly report about progress toward upgrading Aurora College into a polytechnic university.
The document sets out what many residents opposed to the Tin Can Hill site had asked to see: a list of sites considered (11 are shown on a map) and reasons why other sites were eliminated from consideration.
Why the information was published this week, and not earlier in the process of setting out the case for Tin Can Hill, was not clear.
The polytechnic university, due to open in 2025, is expected to maintain the college’s arrangement of major campuses in Fort Smith, Inuvik and Yellowknife.
Yellowknife is said by the GNWT to require a new campus facility because the existing building does not meet requirements.
“Subject matter experts looked at how campuses across Canada and around the world are chosen and developed. They also heard from students, staff and Indigenous governments about what elements were most important when looking at the best location for the future campus,” the quarterly report states.
Through that research, the document continues, the GNWT determined a campus could either be spread across Yellowknife’s downtown (“downtown integrated”), placed at a site on the city’s periphery (“peripheral distinct”), or placed in a “single large space within or close to the city zone” (“central distinct”).
The GNWT then evaluated the benefits and weaknesses of those three models.
Choosing the last option, the GNWT writes: “Central distinct sites balance land availability with the potential for an attractive and fully functional campus that can grow incrementally. This was determined to be the most appropriate approach.”
That left the territorial government with five sites: Tin Can Hill, a site off Old Airport Road near Frame Lake, a spot at the top of the Niven Lake development, the remediated Con Mine, and Taylor Road opposite the existing William McDonald and Allain St-Cyr schools.
The document states land availability between Old Airport Road and Frame Lake is limited by an interim land withdrawal, though a City of Yellowknife map of land withdrawals suggests there is no land withdrawal particularly close to the site in question.
The Niven Lake site was “taken out of consideration by the land owners,” the GNWT states, while Con Mine was not an option “due to potential environmental liabilities and timing of availability.”
Taylor Road was not taken forward because it is “surrounded by old tailings ponds from Con Mine that significantly limit the potential for establishing a campus.”
That left Tin Can Hill, which the GNWT said qualified because it is the right size, in the right location, and provides “a great opportunity to develop a striking and unique campus identity.”
NWT government officials have stated a campus will initially take up approximately a twelfth of Tin Can Hill, though that could expand in future.
The quarterly report states: “The site is currently owned by the City of Yellowknife and is primarily used as a recreational site by dog-walkers and skiers. This use can be maintained and potentially enhanced on the natural preserve that is intended to occupy a large portion of the new campus grounds.”
More detail about the proposed campus is due later this summer.
“Its grounds and facilities will be designed to celebrate Indigenous ways of being, knowing, and doing,” the quarterly report states.
“The campus environment will be integrated with the natural landscape, supportive of land-based learning, and centred around cultural safety and diversified support.”