The Royal Alberta Museum is a longstanding part of Edmonton’s culture and economy. It first opened in December 1967 as part of Canada’s centennial celebrations, and since then, it has maintained its dedication to preserving and making publicly accessible aspects of Alberta’s natural and cultural heritage—and it has welcomed 13.7 million visitors in the process.
That isn’t about to change because of the new building.
“Both the building and the exhibits are nearing completion,” Chris Robinson, executive director of the Royal Alberta Museum explains. The opening is planned for 2018. “With 72,000 square feet of permanent exhibition space, nearly 400 individual exhibits, more than 5,300 objects on display, 80 film and audio elements, 11 casts of ice-age mammals, five dinosaurs, and dioramas – old and new, there is, as you can imagine, a lot of activity going on.
“The process of making a museum is involved and specialized. From building features to the immense array of moving parts and expertise, all aspects of moving a museum must be handled with care and attention. The galleries are now being outfitted with their exhibit infrastructure. After that, we will begin the process of moving and installing the objects and interpretive materials that tell stories about Alberta’s natural and cultural heritage, stories that will be told through the collections we have assembled over the past 50 years.”
Those 50 years’ worth of collections are part of why the new location is so necessary.
“It really comes down to size,” says Robinson. “The museum has outgrown the Glenora location. Alberta has changed in many ways since the museum opened, and our collections have grown as well. With twice the space, the new Royal Alberta Museum will reflect Albertans’ interests and will put more collections on display.
“New galleries in both the natural and human history wings will showcase Alberta’s incredible stories, from changing landscapes, to First Peoples, to where we are today and the challenges we face as a vibrant, growing multicultural community.
“The new museum will also feature an expansive bug room and an interactive children’s gallery focused on learning through play. More importantly, we want to draw connections between the past and present, so exhibits explore our recent past as well as those that go back millennia.”
Speaking of the exhibits, there’s one question on everyone’s mind: how did they move those massive dioramas?
“Carefully!” Robinson laughs. “They weren’t designed to move, but museum staff, with the assistance of specialized movers, got them stabilized, out of the building, and into their new galleries downtown. It was quite a scene with wildlife dioramas moving through downtown on flatbed trucks. The clearances out of Glenora and into downtown galleries were tight, but we had designed the new museum knowing these dimensions. Everything went well!”
“We aim to be a place that fosters wonder, inquiry, and new understandings about Alberta,” Robinson explains. “The design allows for more diverse exhibitions and will provide an engaging and informative look into some of the people, events, process, and moments that make Alberta what it is today. We are home to 2.4 million objects and 5,300 of those have been selected to tell unique stories of Alberta.
“The new facility provides a tremendous opportunity to attract visitors here at home and around the world. The Royal Alberta Museum will help to drive heritage tourism in the province, while contributing to the local and provincial economy.”
The Royal Alberta Museum’s potential tourist draw is something Renee Williams, director of communications and distribution, Travel Edmonton, is very aware of. “It’s a stunning facility, and once those doors open, people from all over the province will be interested in coming to Edmonton to check it out and see what it has to offer.”
“Our team is chomping at the bit to start selling to international visitors and sales investors,” she laughs. “It’s probably one of the buildings in the downtown core that has everyone the most excited.
“The industry is so interconnected in Edmonton. If someone in northern Alberta decides to come into Edmonton to visit the Royal Alberta Museum, they will also be looking for places to eat, they might do some shopping, they might stay at hotels in the area, or might seek out more of the entertainment industry—we are certainly going to see impacts to the entire industry as a result.”
“The Edmonton tourism industry crosses multiple sectors, from the hospitality and hotel industry to retail attractions and the entertainment sector. It is an economic driver that is helping to keep Edmonton floating through the economic downturn in an economy that is so heavily built on the resource sector. When things in the resource sector are not at the top of their game (due to impacts on the political stage, the administrative stage, and other areas), you start to look to other economic drivers.
“Tourism is a massive industry. According to 2014 statistics, tourism brought in $8 billion in visitor expenditure, and that’s huge. It employs upwards of 36,000 within the province, and 127,000+ in the country. It introduces new jobs, new money, and new investments into the economy,” Williams emphasizes, “and tourism draws like the Royal Alberta Museum, which appeals to international visitors, have an impact on multiple sectors, airlines included.”
She adds, “The museum’s location positions it well to be a driver. It is located a block away from Rogers Place, it’s up the street from the Alberta Art Gallery, and the entire arts district lies in behind it and to the east.”
Melanie Stroh, director of sales and marketing at The Westin Edmonton, agrees. “The Westin Edmonton’s trendy downtown location puts you within steps of the city’s most sought-after attractions. With the new location and amazing building, it will be another fantastic attraction to add to the long list of reasons to visit downtown Edmonton,” Stroh notes, adding that “we may see more foot traffic and leisure guests visiting our downtown” as a result, and that “could lead to more overnight stays as well as increased traffic into Share Restaurant and Lounge.”
The museum represents an important development for the tourism industry, and the tourism economy has direct impacts on the hotel industry. “Without our valuable tourism partners and leisure guests, the hotel industry would struggle during non-conference periods,” Stroh explains. “Our leisure guests provide great insight into news trends as well as new ideas to improve the overall guest experience. These guests are critical to not only the hotel industry’s success, but also to all of the industries that work in the tourism sector. This is a very exhilarating time to be an Edmontonian. With the opening of the new museum as well as the development of ICE District, one cannot help but be excited for the future of downtown Edmonton.”
The Royal Alberta Museum’s benefits aren’t limited to Edmonton’s economy. As Gail Wozny, consultant, curriculum and resource support, Edmonton Public Schools, explains, from an education standpoint, museums aren’t just beneficial, they are crucial.
“Museums like the Royal provide us with a professional partner that is designed to engage its visitors and stimulate their curiosity,” says Wozny. “Any time we can make meaningful connections with community partners, we are helping our students.”
She laughs, “Museums are not the dusty holders of artifacts people might envision from long ago! Institutions like the Royal Alberta Museum provide hands-on, engaging experiences that enhance the curriculum in a wide range of subjects. Teachers can build authentic cross-curricular projects around these experiences. We know some of the most meaningful learning happens when a variety of subjects are integrated with projects, and the museum can really help with that.
“The Royal Alberta Museum has staff who actively create programs that connect with the Alberta curriculum. Teachers can work with guides at the museum to create something specific for them, work with a self-guided tour, or bring their students out for some independent exploration. The Royal Alberta Museum also lends out Edu-Kits that place artifacts in classrooms along with lesson plans to go with them.”
Wozny concludes, “Making hands-on, engaging connections to various subjects and seeing them at work in the real world can have a powerful impact on students. Any time you can make real life connections to your subject matter, that’s a win. Getting youth out into the community, practicing their social skills, adapting to new environments, and engaging with public spaces is a learning opportunity in itself. Ultimately, having an educated population is the backbone of our economy and civil society.”