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Museum Cafe re-opening delayed
Kitchen repairs won't get underway until closer to anniversary of Boxing Day fire

Katherine Hudson
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, November 15, 2012

Wally Sheper held the contract for the Museum Cafe for the past 11 years and is patiently waiting for it to reopen after a Boxing Day chimney fire last year shut it down.

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Barb Cameron, director of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, said her goal is to open the Museum Cafe for April 1. The cafe's kitchen experienced massive damage due to a chimney fire on Boxing Day last year. - Katherine Hudson/NNSL photo

"It's been nowhere for the last 10 months," said Sheper. "Everything's on hold until the kitchen is back and has been rebuilt We just have to sit on the sidelines."

According to Barb Cameron, director of the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, the Museum Cafe will be open April 1. There has been work started to rebuild the chimney, but the kitchen repair work is still out for tender and won't start until late December. The repair work is estimated at about $440,000, said Cameron.

The repair will bring the kitchen back to its original state, but will allow for a more functional layout and more storage.

While the industrial stove and oven were saved and sent to Edmonton for refurbishment, the freezers and fridges were ruined due to water from firefighting efforts and the heat of the fire.

"The fire destroyed a major section of the kitchen and in order to do the repair, the whole footprint of the kitchen had to be gutted," said Cameron.

Soot buildup in the chimney over time, along with the tremendous heat coming out of the boilers, created the ignition that started the chimney fire. Cameron said the chimney is constantly maintained, but these things sometimes happen.

"We have a maintenance program and that was one of the things we were scratching our heads, it wasn't picked up on," she said.

Smoke from the fire did not enter the air handling system which shut down when the fire occurred and the fire was contained to the kitchen.

"In terms of damage, we were pretty lucky with just having to replace the kitchen," said Cameron.

"The moose-skin boat, you could never replace that, not easily. Some of the things we have are one-of-a-kind. Plus we have the archives."

Cameron said she realizes Yellowknifers are missing the gourmet lunch restaurant and she doesn't blame them.

Under a curved fir wood ceiling with wooden ravens perched on the rafters and a stained glass window, diners were served Tuscan chicken melts, tender lamb marinated with spices, lemon and olive oil, bison burgers and smoked salmon pasta. There was carrot cake and homemade pastries and specialty coffees.

Cameron said the museum welcomes about 35,000 visitors annually and about 5,000 people come in for lunch or to use the cafe, specifically.

"I know people are missing the restaurant, people miss Wally's food. He had a reputation, a good reputation," said Cameron.

After the fire, the museum was closed to the public for a month. Staff came back to work after a week. The repairs have stretched out for almost a year for a number of reasons, said Cameron.

Replacing the chimney in the dead of winter wasn't an option. The centre, which is owned by the GNWT, had to put in a proposal for the repair budget.

Due to a new territorial government in the fall of 2011, Cameron said the budget cycle was a little different this year. The approvals didn't come through until June. Emergency roof work has been done as well as work on the new chimney.

"There's been some technical challenges that needed to be engineered. We changed the chimney. Instead of one big chimney, it's now three, tied into three separate boilers," said Cameron. There are two heating boilers and one steam boiler in the facility. Everything used to be tied into one chimney. Now, it will be more efficient, said Cameron.

"In case something happens to one, it doesn't shut down the whole museum."

Meanwhile, Sheper has been honing up on his chef and pastry-making skills and eating what he's been making. He's keen to get back to work.

"It's a very, very lovely space," he said.

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