The new Royal Alberta Museum is opening today! Congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to make this happen. We are very excited to explore the new building and galleries, and enjoy the museum for many years to come.
In honour of the new museum building opening, our post today looks back at the beginning, and original opening, of the Provincial Museum of Alberta (later renamed Royal Alberta Museum) 51 years ago.
The former Royal Alberta Museum building was built as the Provincial Museum and Archives of Alberta in 1967. It was the culmination of a decades long effort to build a provincial museum in Edmonton. Funding came through the Government of Canada’s “Confederation Centennial Memorial Program”, which saw a substantial, jointly funded construction project in every province and territory to mark 100 years of Canadian Confederation. As such, the Provincial Museum and Archives of Alberta was designed to be a monument to and a symbol of Confederation, and to connect Alberta’s past with its future (the Provincial Archives moved to its new location in 2003 after outgrowing the space at the museum building).
Aspects of the building’s very construction were intended to contribute to its symbolic status, from the dedication plaque in the lobby, with its stylized maple leaf logo and a dedicatory message in both English and French, and declaring that the museum was “Erected by the Province of Alberta In Permanent Commemoration of the Centennial of Confederation in Canada in 1967”, to other more subtle ways. The theme of Canada’s centennial year focused on strength and unity through diversity, and the 1967 provincial museum building’s very substance and mass is a statement about Canada and Confederation. Much of the stone used in the building was sourced from different provinces, from “Thunderstone” slate from Alberta and British Columbia for the entry plaza paving stones and Manitoba Tyndall stone for the exterior walls. The Tyndall stone, while primarily selected for its attractive appearance and colouring, had the extra benefit of containing numerous fossils, making the stone “a virtual ‘museum’ in itself’ by allowing people to view the still embedded fossils, many in cross-section form along the stone cuts. Inside the building, Tweed Pearl Marble from Ontario was used on the walls of the lobby, grand staircases and escalator wells, and on the window and door surrounds. The floor in the most of the main lobby and orientation gallery was made from Black Granite from Quebec. The location of the building was also deliberately chosen so that the new museum would be linked to Alberta’s past by being on the same grounds as the historic Government House and for its commanding view of the North Saskatchewan River, one of Canada’s most significant pre-contact and fur-trade era transportation and communication routes. Petroglyphs from Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park were replicated and carved into the stone of the exterior, acknowledging Alberta’s prehistoric past. Numerous sculptures throughout the building and grounds were commissioned to show in sculpted, artistic form, Alberta’s human and natural history, the evolution of the province and the importance of tradition in passing on the history of its people.
The establishment of the museum, along with the Jubilee Auditoria, built a decade earlier, was a part of Premier Ernest Manning’s efforts to use new found natural resources wealth to demonstrate that Alberta was a modern province, connected to its past, and an active and important part of the Canadian Confederation.