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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Museums is Awesome

So, the provincial government made an announcement back on Thursday that made me a little bit giddy and I just had to blog about it.

The Government of Alberta has pledged $340 million to build a newer, bigger, better Royal Alberta Museum.

Here's the Edmonton Journal article making the announcement.

This new museum will be built right in downtown Edmonton, just behind city hall.  It'll be a 5-storey building with twice the display space of the current Royal Alberta Museum.  And I think this is an idea that is well past its due.

It's too bad that the images released are just placeholders, and that the province will be launching an international design competition for the new museum.  I really like this idea of a gigantic atrium/entry hall with a dinosaur at the top of a grand staircase.  Designers, take note!

Now, as I said, this is an idea that's well past its due.  I like museums, and there's a lot of good ones in the province that are run by the provincial government.  About four years ago, for my summer vacation, I hopped in my car and drove down to Drumheller to see the Royal Tyrell Museum, because it had been so darn long since I had.  And I loved it.  That is a great museum.  It's very interactive, very educational, and it really is designed to fit in with the landscape. 

In fact, I brought my voice recorder with me, and I produced a whole podcast live on location at the Royal Tyrrell Museum.  Click here to download it!

About a year and a half ago, I got together with my folks, and we journeyed all the way to the southernmost corner of the province to see the famous Remmington Carriage Museum in Cardston.  Yeah, I know, a museum about horse-drawn wagons, how many stagecoaches can you see?  But, seriously, it is an amazing place.  Very informative, and a whole lot of fun. 

And, again, as I've blogged several times before, the restaurant in that museum made the best damn burger I've ever had. 

Compared to all this, our little old Royal Alberta Museum started lacking.  Last time I was there was in 2008.  I took February 29 off and decided to do something memorable to commemorate Leap Day, so I went to the Royal Alberta Museum.  I know, I'm a wild man.  As I blogged at the time, you can tell that the museum is a product of its time.  It has that real "fortress of knowledge" motif that was popular in the 1960s.  Just one look at the exterior, and you can imagine scientists inside, wearing horn-rimmed glasses and narrow ties, smoking pipes and trying to figure out a way to beat the Commies to the moon. 

Some of the exhibits are showing their age.  The giant, fiberglass dinosaurs, brand-new when the museum opened in the 1960s, are starting to look worn out.  The Natural History area, with its taxidermy animals in elaborate dioramas, just had a gigantic renovations, and was looking really good.  But it was still lacking...not quite up to the "Royal" name. 

Of course, there are some cynics to the project, and they have good reason to be cynical.  As you may recall, it was called the Provincial Museum of Alberta, and the Queen made it Royal when she visited in 2005.  Back then, Ralph Klein announced the $340 million renovation to the museum.  But, construction costs rose out of control, and when Ed Stelmach came to power, it was dismissed as a Klein legacy project and put on the back burner.

And now, Stelmach has made this announcement in the waning days of his premier-ship.  I'm sure the new guy might dismiss this as a Stelmach legacy project and shuffle it once again to the back burner. 

One thing that has me cynical is something you might think would make me giddy.  Stelmach also announced that a portion of the building would serve as the Edmonton terminal of the long-dreamed-about Edmonton-Calgary high speed rail link. 

I love trains, and I've long believed that a high-speed rail link from Edmonton to Calgary makes all kinds of good sense.  However, is it really a good idea to toss a train station into a museum?  It's a blend that I'm still having trouble wrapping my head around. 

And the question is arising now of what'll become of the old Royal Alberta Museum.  There's already been some talk of converting it into the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor.  That's an idea I can get behind.  Did you know that Alberta currently does NOT have an official residence for our Lieutenant Governor?  It was demolished in 2004, with the plan to build a new one for the centennial.  But the plans for that new one befell the same fate as the original museum plan.  So,  yeah.  Out Lieutenant Governor deserves a place to live. 

It's time build a kick-ass museum truly deserving of the name "Royal Alberta."  So, when the new guy comes to power, I hope we all write him and hold him up to this.    

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