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A new face for an old school
Renovations begin transforming historic log building into museum

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Thursday, August 20, 2015

After 25 years of sitting empty, the old log school in Jean Marie River is being turned into a hunting and trapping museum.

NNSL photo/graphic

Renovations have recently begun on Jean Marie River's old log school, which is to be turned into a museum. The community hopes to have the exterior of the building complete by the end of 2015. - photo courtesy of Marilyn Hardisty

Construction is in its third week and exterior renovations on the building are expected to be completed before winter.

The renovations will likely cost up to $550,000 or $600,000 by the time they are complete, according to senior administrative officer Mike Rudkin.

When complete, the museum will operate on a seasonal basis, attracting tourism dollars throughout the summer months and closing during the winter to cut down on costs.

The museum will be run by Jean Marie River's development corporation and will include a small coffee shop and retail outlet.

The project was born out of Jean Marie River's 2013 tourism business development plan and recently secured $150,000 in funding from the territorial Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment.

"We're hoping to apply to them again next year," said Rudkin.

"This project's continuation is strictly contingent upon obtaining funding."

He added that work on the museum would need to be finished by March 2018 at the latest.

A two-year renovation plan means the museum could be open at some point in 2017, although Rudkin added there is no detailed timeline being adhered to at this point.

Marilyn Hardisty, Jean Marie River's program co-ordinator, is heading the project. She said the community received its funding from ITI in April but could not start the project until recently.

"It would have been nice if this could have started as soon as it dried up this spring, but it didn't happen that way," she said.

Exterior work this year includes replacing rotted logs and applying an abatement to rid the exterior of asbestos and lead.

Next year, work will begin on the interior. Hardisty said she anticipates the costs for that to be higher, given that interior renovations will include other work, such as electrical.

Aside from ITI, Hardisty has sought funding from Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency - a proposal that was interrupted by the early election call.

"I'm still really hoping something positive comes out of it after the election," she said.

"I'm really pleased to say that the funding organizations I've been dealing with, people have been very supportive and helpful."

She is also seeking Canadian Heritage funding.

Once the museum is complete, it will showcase historic hunting and trapping equipment. Hardisty said the community has discussed asking individual families for item donations or loans, with recognition.

"That's the plan right now - start collecting hunting and trapping implements," she said.

"Even setting up the museum will require outside help."

The old log school was built in the 1950s with logs brought in from the sawmill in Fort Providence.

It stopped being used as a school in the 1990s and has since been sitting unused.

"For those of us who are from here, it means a lot to us," Hardisty said.

Rudkin said builders have been instructed to keep the exterior of the building as similar as possible to the original.

"Because of the significance and history and the people who built it, it's very dear to members of the community to make sure we maintain that building as original as possible," he said.

"I think that's key to attracting tourism dollars, getting people to come and look at it and learn history from Jean Marie."

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