After the Headframe: Feds Release Tourism Funds

Happy together: Morin, Aglukkaq and Ramsay | Photo via Sandy Lee

On EDGE | Opinion

Almost lost in the excitement over the latest chapter in the Robertson Headframe saga was the re-announcement of federal spending on tourism promotion in the Northwest Territories.

Sandy Lee tweeted and Facebook-posted a picture of her boss Leona Aglukkaq, flanked by Minister of Industry, Tourism and Investment Dave Ramsay and former NWT premier and current Aurora Village impresario Don Morin – both beaming with gratitude for the release of taxpayers’ money to be spent on marketing aurora tourism in China, Japan and Europe.

The message in the social media posts was that CanNor has allocated $4 million to the NWT – $1.3 million of that already spent. This next bundle of federal cash is headed for developing and promoting tourism attractions in the communities.

Greasing the engine

With mining and energy sectors treading water, tourism is more than ever regarded as a major economic engine in the NWT. The numbers, according to the federal announcement, are 2,500 jobs and $130 million a year – figures that seem pumped, but the potential is real enough.

Tourism is among the reasons put forward by those who want to save the Robertson Headframe as a visible link to the founding chapter in the city’s history. It’s argued that the Robertson all on its own is an attraction, with or without a climbing wall, bungee jump, revolving restaurant or even just a simple lookout from the former hoist room.

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Money has always been the issue: what will it cost to maintain, just as a 76-meter exclamation point on the landscape?  And if it was the centerpiece of a museum, would visitors spend enough to cover the cost of opening it to the public?

All of that is moot, according to city administrators who have been discussing options with Newmont Mining, which would like to wind up its remediation of the former Con Mine. The territorial government won’t allow the city to take responsibility for the headframe, so that rules out ownership, and would seem to seal its fate.

Blow it up

Those who would tear down the Robertson will have to pay attention to environmental niceties. That probably rules out the most expedient and spectacular option: set charges and drop it to the ground in a mighty crash and clatter of scrap metal.

Cocooning it, in the manner of the Giant Mine buildings, is time-consuming and expensive, but also potentially more rewarding, for documentary film-makers at least. Their account of the headframe’s life and disappearance could be shown in the northern heritage mining museum.

Whatever the method chosen, it will require a thorough environmental assessment, which will generate a cost estimate for deconstruction. That money could be held in trust for whoever might take on the job of maintaining the Robertson – either as a static monument, or as an active attraction. It’s the one slim hope remaining to the preservationists.

City taxpayers have yet to be heard on the Robertson, but an opportunity is fast approaching. The headframe’s fate could be a pivotal issue in the next civic election. Candidates in the territorial and federal elections might also be asked to weigh in: is it an important piece of northern history, or just a pile of industrial junk?

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