Our Founding Story
One winter’s evening in the late 1970’s a small group of ‘interested persons’ met to discuss the possibility of establishing a museum in Hay River. There were many good reasons discussed for pursuing the idea –but—many more pressing needs and developments in the community and territory took precedence and the idea was buried for more than a decade. In 1989/90, word came from the territorial government that funding was available to start again on this idea. A board of some eighteen ‘stakeholders’ was formed under the co-chairmanship of Steven Cooper and Vicky Latour—and with a good deal of government input a study was organized. The GNWT (as funder) selected a Toronto firm, Lords & Associates, to handle this. Some $50k later the study was complete and the Hay River Museum Society (as we now were) needed to process the findings, etc., etc.. At this point, the project was included in the government’s five-year capital plan and it was expected that the project would begin in 1992, with an opening date set for 1994.
However, some dissent had arisen within the community over what and how a local ‘history’ would be told; as well, the Economic Development Department of GNWT assigned the funds earlier dedicated to Hay River’s project to finishing the heritage centre in Iqaluit. In the next fiscal year, the capital funding section disappeared and the proposed heritage centre was scrapped.
In mid-1992 the Board was left with one co-chair, the treasurer and one member—and a small residue of funds. The Society remained registered and ‘functioning‘ in order for Vicky Latour and Peter Osted to receive donations of collection items. It was becoming difficult to house all of these items and as a result Latour and Evelyn Tregidgo (the third member who also staffed the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) in summer) created a ‘mini-museum’ at the VIC. One such display was the work of Dr. Rev. David Harrison who had donated his entire collection of data for his treatise on the History of Hay River and a substantial collection of photographs.
In 1996, Latour approached then NTCL President, Cameron Clement, and asked for the old Hudson’s Bay store building located on Vale Island. NTCL agreed, and the Society purchased the building for $1.00 and leased the land on which it stood, with an option to purchase. The building and site could not be occupied until the summer of 1999.
An application to the Canada Millennium Project Program netted a grant of $45K, and this funding along with a trust of some $34K enabled the Society to form a new board and put the project together. (This trust had been made from the United Church of Canada some 35 years earlier and held by the Town of Hay River until such time as a viable body existed for the purpose of establishing a museum or heritage centre in the community.) With donations, both of money and in-kind, along with the CMPP and trust monies, the extensive renovations were begun and on July 1st, 2000 the official ‘Opening Day’ was held—on the grounds; however, no members of the public could enter the building at this point as no washroom facility was yet installed. On August 6th, 2000 ‘Viewing Day’ was held and we welcomed visitors inside the Hay River Heritage Centre.
Who We Are Today!
Today, the Hay River Museum Society (HRMS) is a place for people to gather to experience the rich history and culture of the community and the region surrounding us. The heritage centre (Museum) is located in the historic ‘Old Town’, by the flowing waters of the Hay River near where it empties into the Great Slave Lake. It is the river itself and the riches of the lake that gave us roots to the settlement of people, not just by the fishermen who settled to harvest the fish or the transportation access it gave to the exploration and growth of the whole Northwest Territories via the Mackenzie River system, but for centuries prior by the indigenous people who lived and valued this place for the same reasons.
The Heritage Centre building is the former Hudson’s Bay Company store, located on land now owned by the Museum Society and was officially opened July 1st, 2000. Our large collection of artifacts is housed within the property, and all of our events and activities take place here. All of the upgrades, collections, events, and landscaping accomplished to date have been achieved by the dedication of volunteers.
HRMS is a registered non-profit society, governed by a 9 member board. The purpose in having this many board members is to be able to include and have input from the diverse groups of peoples and interests in the community. Also, because the work was 100% volunteer, to be able to attract and utilize the many skills and talents required to maintain our operation and achieve our goals.
Do visit us—you’ll find a warm welcome and an interesting, worthwhile wander through local history.