NNSL Photo/Graphic

Canadian North

Home page text size buttonsbigger textsmall textText size Email this articleE-mail this page

Museum celebrates one millionth visitor

Katherine Hudson
Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 1, 2012

She first walked through the doors of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre 20 years ago, when she was 11 years old.

NNSL photo/graphic

Starr McLachlan holds her two children, Stig on the left and two-year-old Ula, at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre Wednesday. Starr is the one-millionth visitor to the centre and was given a Dene baby belt which Ula sits in on her mother's waist. - Katherine Hudson/NNSL photo

But on Wednesday, there was a bit more of a buzz when Starr McLachlan and her two young children entered the museum.

McLachlan is the centre's one-millionth visitor after 33 years of operation. The museum opened its doors on April 13, 1979, and had a royal visitor just three days later when Charles, Prince of Wales - from whom the museum gained its name - officiated the centre three days later.

According to Barb Cameron, director of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, during the first year the museum was open, it saw a bit more than 14,000 visitors. It steadily increased until it plateaued at around 35,000 a year - averaging about 30,000 visitors a year.

Cameron knew McLachlan has a strong connection with the museum, having visited often as a child. She thought now that McLachlan was a new mother herself, and was renewing the cycle by bringing her children to the establishment, it was a good choice to invite her to be the milestone visitor.

McLachlan lived all over the NWT, in Inuvik, Tsiighetchic and Kugluktuk before settling in Yellowknife at the age of 11.

"I came on the weekends with my family - my mother, my little sisters - to all the family events," said McLachlan. She remembers staring in awe at the giant moose-skin boat placed in the feature gallery upstairs, and being fascinated with the floatplane in the aviation gallery.

"The airplanes, I could stare at them forever," she said.

"When I had children two years ago, I started bringing them to the family events and they love it."

In celebration of being the one-millionth visitor, Jackson Lafferty, minister of Education, Culture and Employment, was on hand to present McLachlan with a Dene baby belt.

"It's a historical event ... We just want to congratulate the millionth visitor," said Lafferty.

The baby belt was chosen as a gift because it is practical for a mother, is a cultural piece of art and illustrates the importance of family, said Cameron.

"When you pack a baby on your hip with a belt, there's a real bond that you see immediately," she said.

"The belt, to me, really symbolizes that teaching, that bond between mother and child. The teaching that takes place and the passing down of knowledge and information."

She said the museum tracks its visitors through surveys and guest books - and has kept track of visitors from at least 25 countries worldwide.

"It's a historic moment for us after 33 years. Some museums get a million visitors a year. Some of the bigger ones in Canada. This certainly is historic for us," said Cameron.

A lot has changed over the 33 years the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre has been open. One more noticeable addition is the centre's presence online. As well as being a strong tourism destination for the NWT, the museum offers a number of exhibits on its website.

"Since our website started, we've gone from a few maybe hundred thousand, and now we're at six million hits a year," said Cameron.

The numbers will continue to creep onward to a new milestone. As the intimate celebration of the millionth visitor wound down around noon Wednesday, new visitors with cameras hanging from their necks could be seen venturing into the museum to see what it held.

E-mailWe welcome your opinions. Click here to e-mail a letter to the editor.