For the longest time, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights seemed to exist as only a conceptual drawing.
On September 20, when the last piece of glass was installed on the museum’s Tower of Hope, the museum officially passed from concept to reality.
With its exterior now complete, the next task is to get the museum’s interior ready. Finishing the interior, including the many gallery spaces that will be used to showcase exhibits, is expected to take another two years or so, with the museum projected to open sometime in 2014.
“The architectural sketches we’ve become so familiar with are no longer a vision,” said Stuart Murray, the museum’s president and CEO, taking his turn at the podium at Journey with the Stars Tour 2014, held at Canad Inns Destination Centre Polo Park on September 25. “With the last piece of glass in place, what was once an artist’s drawing today emerges fully realized.”
It’s a reality that’s been a long time in the making, said Gail Asper, national campaign chair for the Friends of the CMHR.
“The journey began with my dad (media mogul Izzy Asper) 12 years ago,” she said, speaking before an audience that included Premier Greg Selinger, Deputy Mayor Justin Swandel and countless museum donors. “It was his dream to build a world class centre for dialogue and action (on the human rights front). We knew it was a dream we could achieve together; we are now closer than ever to realizing that dream because of all the support (over 7,000 private donors) we’ve received.”
Once the museum is up and running, everyone — the city, province and federal government — figures to benefit from its presence. Even now, 350 highly-skilled tradespeople are being employed in the latest phase of construction, while construction alone is generating more than $53 million in new federal taxes, with those taxes figuring to garner another $4.5 million per year once the museum officially opens for business in 2014.
Meanwhile, the museum is projected to generate approximately $79 million annually in revenue that will be injected into the local economy, said Murray.
“It (the economic impact) is going to be huge,” he said.”There are so many potential economic spinoffs from having the museum here that the sky’s the limit.
“We’re not even open yet, and we already have a significant international reach,” he added, “with people from all over the world showing interest. It’s fascinating to see what’s already happening.”
The marketing possibilities are endless. To that end, Murray and his staff at the museum are presently hard at work figuring out how to turn the (projected) presence of 250,000 annual visitors to the museum into one very significant economic stimulus.
“Right now, we’re looking at doing things like partnering with the (Winnipeg) Art Gallery, the Manitoba Theatre for Young People and with Churchill for tours that will introduce people to polar bears and their unique northern location,” said Murray. “We’re even looking at creating a shuttle that will bring people from Via Rail on Main Street for a tour while they’re on a four-hour stop.
“Of course, you’ve also got attractions like the Jets, Bombers and Goldeyes, as well. The opportunities are boundless.”
While tourists are busy visiting the museum and local attractions, the museum itself will also require a workforce to run it. At present, the CMHR has approximately 60 employees working in various departments. It’s estimated that about 140 to 180 full- and part-time jobs will be created by the museum as it gets up and running over the next few years.
As it now stands, 40 per cent of the museum’s current workforce have moved to Winnipeg from across Canada, the United States and Europe. As the museum’s workforce grows, more homes will be bought and more properties will be rented, creating additional economic spin-offs in the form of municipal taxes and families spending their disposable income on necessities and luxury items.
With a steady influx of tourists and more workers coming to work downtown, hotels, restaurants, bars and other establishments also figure to benefit significantly from the museum’s presence.
Granted, it has taken more time than expected for the museum to be built (the norm for construction projects, especially ones as ambitious as the museum), and the outlay of money for such a world-class structure has been more than some people would like.
Selinger said it’s important to look at the bigger picture.
“Having the museum built here rather than in Ottawa is a great achievement,” he said. “The museum has been built with the support of the community, and will be a legacy for years to come.”
Will some short term economic pain be worth it for the long-term economic gains the museum’s presence could bring to the city and province in the years to come?
Only time will tell.