According to the count on its official website, the Royal Alberta Museum (RAM) has welcomed nearly 14 million visitors to its Glenora site since the doors were opened to the public back in 1967.
This December, though, the last visitor will walk through those doors, and the museum will begin the process of moving to its new facility downtown, currently under construction. It might be one of the most extensive moves the city has ever seen; it will take nearly two years for the new building to be finished and to send the artefacts, statues and art roughly 30 blocks east. The goal is for the downtown location to be open in late 2017.
Once the new building opens, the spotlight will be on it. But what of the old facility in Glenora, which is perched atop the river valley, nestled amongst some of the most sought-after real estate in the city?
Government House and the Carriage House, which are on the same grounds, are protected buildings. But the RAM building itself carries no such distinction.
Faced with Tyndall stone and featuring First Nations glyphs on the sides of the building, there is an argument to be made for preserving the old site. As well, brutalist architecture — love it or hate it — is part of this city’s DNA.
Deborah Andrews, the head of community relations for the RAM, says the province has no intention of putting a for-sale sign up on the building.
“Although nothing concrete has been decided, it will remain with the province,” she says.
Diane Thomas, the president of the Glenora Community League, has held meetings with executives from neighbouring community leagues in the museum building.
“I think the building is beautiful. It really captures a time in Alberta’s history, and I would love to see it utilized more,” she says.
But, she says no one from the Glenora Community League has had any contact with provincial officials about the plans for the facility.
Glenora is part of Ward 6, represented by city councillor Scott McKeen, and he says very little has been said at the civic level about what will happen to the building.
“I suspect the worst case is that it sits dormant for years,” he says. “I’d be shocked if something other than a cultural use was planned.”
Of course, because the RAM is a provincial department, the City of Edmonton doesn’t have as much say when it comes to what will happen to the building on 102nd Avenue once the exhibits and staff are gone; any rezoning application will still have to come before city council.
Thomas says she believes that the museum’s theatre, which can fit a maximum of 417 people, is “under-utilized” and could be a great spot for arts organizations. In fact, in the fall of 2013, Avenue held its Top 40 Under 40 party at the museum’s theatre. That could be the starting point for a re-imagining of the old space.