By Charlotte Tarver–After nearly two years of construction, if you’re driving past the Qay’llnagaay Centre in Skidegate, you can now see the ultimate shape of the entire centre. Roofs are on most of the buildings, windows are in, siding and shakes are on – the final form is revealed.
Two weeks ago, Nathalie Macfarlane, Director of the Haida Gwaii Museum, gave a tour of the $20-million, 53,000 square foot project to some Haida Gwaii Museum Society board members. The society is one partner involved in the centre, along with Parks Canada, and others.
“Inside finishing is progressing well in some of the buildings now,” said Ms Macfarlane. Remodeling of the 30-year-old museum is part of the project, and museum space will double into new areas of the centre. Installation of the exhibits will begin next summer and will take about six months. The museum will remain open during most of the work.
“The current museum space will be finished first,” Ms Macfarlane said, “The sprinkler system will be installed this week and the lighting system installation is due soon.” In the new part of the museum, the stone floor is being laid, all windows are in and inside walls are being finished.
Ms Macfarlane took the group through all future exhibit areas of the entire centre. Throughout the museum and Qay centre, the past and present will not be separated, and natural history exhibits will be integrated with Haida history and stories. Themes for each exhibit were chosen through a consultation process with islanders. Six natural history exhibits will be in the current museum along with Parks Canada’s hi-tech exhibit on Gwaii Haanas.
The centre’s intent is to present to the world Haida heritage from ancient times to the present, and to feature arts, culture, and the richness of the natural world of the Islands. Another strong component of the centre is to offer educational programs in the arts, university programs and a variety of training programs.
Just inside the museum entrance will be a unique archives exhibit area – a 1950s islands-style living room with couches, a kitchen table and other period furniture. Visitors can sit and relax while browsing through an album of old photos of island life and scenes. Or turn on the old-style TV and watch film footage of island life from the mid to late 20th century. On the walls will be late 19th to mid-20th century artifacts like telephones, folk art and domestic utensils.
Not all exhibits will be in place when the centre opens. The budget does not cover costs of developing and installation of some exhibits – however, fundraising is ongoing. Exhibits such as the Supernatural House, Hunting and Fishing, Geology and the Marine Observation area will not be fully completed by opening. The exhibits’ design allows for future installation of new material as funding becomes available.
One of the most interesting interactive areas visitors will see is the exhibit called “Contact and Conflict.” They’ll walk through a “tear” in a large mural showing Skidegate in the 1880s – the intent is to give a physical sense of leaving the pre-contact era of Haida history and entering the time of massive change to that society. The exhibit will high-light positive things that happened during this post-contact time, not just a time of Haida dying from new diseases. It will also portray the new medium of argillite carving for 19th century tourist trade and the rise of a boatbuilding industry in Old Massett and Skidegate.
The Pole Gallery, with its 45-ft. ceiling, will allow several historic poles to stand upright after many years of storage in Vancouver and in the present museum building in an unnatural horizontal position.
The centre will also house the Gwaii Haanas administration offices, the Bill Reid Teaching Centre, performance theatre, carving shed (closest building to the highway), canoe shed, and Ga Taa Naay, a restaurant. It will feature Haida foods – a smoke house and an outside barbecue will be used in food preparation. The restaurant will also offer chef training.
Some buildings still need considerable work. The main entry to the centre, the Welcome House, lacks a roof, beams and walls – it will have a glass roof. A large 4-foot carved copper will appear to float and will greet entering visitors. Off the main entrance will be the Trading House where a gift shop displaying local artists’ works will ultimately be located. The performance theatre only has its posts and beams in place at the moment. Closing up of all the buildings is now moving quickly. During the tour, the site was a beehive of activity with workers moving to and fro, hammers pounding, saws running, stonemasons laying flooring, and roofers shaking the roofs. Excitement and anticipation hung in the air.
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