A history of the Royal Alberta Museum
Crowds flocked to the grand opening of the Royal Alberta Museum in downtown Edmonton on Wednesday, but the path to this new attraction for Alberta was long and complicated.
What would become the Royal Alberta Museum first opened as the Provincial Museum and Archives in December 1967. It adopted its current name in 2005 during the province’s 100th birthday when Queen Elizabeth II visited Alberta’s capital city.
In the six years that followed, the provincial government promised a new building and renovations for RAM at its Glenora location, but the cash never appeared—until the Ed Stelmach administration dedicated $180 millionfor museum redevelopment in its first budget.
In 2011, the government said its plans had never changed but that it had taken time to organize plans and funding.
The decision to build
Once the ball was rolling, roll it did.
Just two months after the February 2011 announcement, the provincial government then announced a $340-million plan to rebuild the facilityin Edmonton’s core.
Construction was slated to start that year, and an opening in 2015.
“Just as the great urban centres around the world are known for their great museums, known for their cultural facilities, so too will this great city,” Stelmach said at the time.
The task team had decided renovations to the Glenora building would have closed the site for nearly four years, and weren’t ideal given the RAM’s location next to the Government House.
There was mixed reaction.
Then-Mayor Stephen Mandel said, “This is about building a better city, a more creative city, a more dynamic city.”
Others were skeptical the plans would go forward. In 2005, the government had made a similar pledge without any results.
By September, a building plan by Ledcor Design Build had been finalized.
The project is paused
A month later, the project’s future was unclear.
On October 26, 2011, then-Minister of Infrastructure Jeff Johnson announced Ottawa had pulled its $92 million contributionto the project.
But as Alberta put the project on hold and cancelled developer contracts, the federal government refuted this. Then-Minister Rona Ambrose told CTV News Ottawa had only ever committed $30 million to RAM, which she said was still on the table.
According to Johnson, the province had applied for $92 million three months after the February announcement RAM would be relocated downtown.
“We had very good assertions or affirmations that we were going to be able to get this funding,” Johnson said. “(We were told) that it was solid, it was going to be there.”
Ambrose called the confusion a “situation of a lot of mixed messages.”
To add to the uncertainty, Laurie Hawn, MP at the time, said the province of Alberta had told the federal government it could fund the project itself.
“They were told when they did the announcement in April that under the way these programs work that the federal funding would not be there," Hawn said, referring to Alberta’s plans for a new location. "They said, ‘That's fine, we can do this on our own'.”
When a 2009 brochure—sent by Hawn to his constituents—saying the MP had secured $85 million from Ottawa resurfaced, Hawn said: “As I said before, and I will say it again, at that time that was the best information we had on the project. The province changed.”
Another green light
Finally, it was decided: the federal government would provide money for the project.
In total, Ottawa would supply $122.5 million, $30 million of which had been previously committed, and $92.5 million through the Building Canada Fund. The province committed the remaining $217.5 million.
The Royal Alberta Museum’s completion was scheduled for 2017.
When construction started in 2014, Mayor Don Iveson said, “It was a tough road to get to approval, and so that’s just what makes today’s sod turning all the sweeter.”
Start of a new era
As a final good-bye and thank-you to the community for its support, the Glenora location stayed open for its final 48 hoursin December 2015.
In June of the next year, construction of the downtown building was finished.
“When all of the exhibits are here, it’s going to be a landmark, a signature piece of architecture,” Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason said at a celebration of the milestone.
Conde Nast echoed Mason’s statement, naming the Royal Alberta Museum as one of the biggest museum openings of fall 2018.
When the museum announced October 3 as its grand opening, thousands of free tickets were picked up by the public in hours.
That morning, Executive Director Chris Robinson addressed the crowd: “Welcome to the Royal Alberta Museum. I have not said that in about two-and-a-half years, and I’m going to get used to say it again, so I will say it again. Welcome to the Royal Alberta Museum.”