Mining museum needs support

by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Sep 10/97) - A mining museum for Yellowknife has been envisioned by many for some time, but there's been cinder blocks impeding progress.

"We all feel it's a good idea. It would be great if we could have a working mine that we could use as part of the display because the demand is certainly there," says Mike Vaydik, current general manager of the NWT Chamber of Mines. Every tourist that comes to town wants a mine tour."

Mike Piro of the Spirit of Yk says: "I've been working and worrying about this mining museum for 10 years and we haven't gotten very far but I feel there should be one. There hasn't been enough interest from the right circles." Funding and location are other problems he identified.

Piro says the Spirit of Yk will continue to discuss the mining museum in spite of the obstacles, and try to get one established.

The Spirit of Yk has between a dozen and 18 members dedicated at preserving this history of Yellowknife.

"The reason we were formed was to preserve some of the mining history and prevent environmental people from destroying mining history with their cleanups. And a mining museum is one of the things on our agenda, right now," says Piro.

"We have made some progress. I think it's time to put some serious pressure to get this thing going," Piro said in an interview earlier this week.

Piro suggested a museum be located at Giant mine, although no one has approached Giant yet, he says. Or another possibility would be the old Negus buildings, he added.

Mike Vaydik offered another possible location.

"If you could even open up the old Burwash property where there's a shaft a couple of feet deep or do something like that to have people experience what a working mine would be like," says Vaydik.

But the problem is money and commitment from people, concurs Vaydik.

"It's a nice thing to do but someone needs to run with it. Obviously industry has to be in it, but it also requires government and community support -- three prongs," Vaydik says.

"And given the obvious benefits to tourism, we'd be looking at input from tourism groups," Vaydik noted.

"An increased mining display at the Northern Heritage Centre is another option, or increasing our visibility at the visitor's centre. But it requires some space and investment in infrastructure," Vaydik adds.

"I think it's not impossible and could be resurrected again. We could try and get something moving again," says Vaydik.

The last concerted effort to develop a mining museum for the city of Yellowknife came in 1993 -- a year after the Giant mine explosion.

"In the end it failed because we couldn't get individuals committed or government funds. The way to get it back and get something out is to put funds into it," says Tom Hoeffer, former general manager of the NWT Chamber of Mines. A consultant's report was done at the time and the Spirit of Yk was in support, but it wasn't enough, he added.

Yellowknife has mining memorabilia scattered throughout the town, but there's no single place for tourists to go to see it all.

Hoeffer believes using an existing facility is the way to go.

The old Thompson-Lundmark mine, 11 kilometres north of the Ingraham Trail, would be a good site. It was built in the 1940s, and it's got bunkhouses, he says.

Another spot that would be ideal is the old Burns meat facility, he says. It's near the waterfront in the Con Mine housing area of town. But he's not sure if snowmobilers are still using it.

Who could get involved?

Hoeffer believes the city, government, chambers of commerce and mining companies could play a role.

Piro says a mining museum is essential for tourists. "Most people don't realize the number of tourists we do get. People come here from all over the world. They ask questions and want to know about the history. There's been a lack of interest by the public at large about tourism and I think that's a big mistake."

Cheryl Best, executive director for the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, says a mining museum "would be good for tourism and our heritage, but it will be a matter of taxpayers' money in the end because industry can't afford one, so we'll be making sure we get value for our money."

Mayor Dave Lovell says that, while the city hasn't been involved with a potential mining museum, some councillors have been individually.