The Royal Al­berta Mu­seum will move into its new down­town Ed­mon­ton home this year, a mas­sive lo­gis­ti­cal task cap­tured in this be­hind-the-scenes photo es­say


FOR­GET ABOUT the ta­bles and chairs. And the mi­cro­scopes. And the 14,000 bird eggs in the or­nithol­ogy col­lec­tions. And the 60-plus live in­ver­te­brates that crawl, scut­tle and buzz in the Bug Room gallery. Those are — rel­a­tively speak­ing — easy to move. What the Royal Al­berta Mu­seum re­ally needed to worry about was the mam­moth skele­ton. How was the in­sti­tu­tion go­ing to get the an­cient tusked be­he­moth out the low door­ways of the ven­er­a­ble old build­ing it had out­grown just west of down­town Ed­mon­ton and into its glit­ter­ing new $375.5-mil­lion home that oc­cu­pies 38,000 square me­tres of prime real es­tate in the more cen­tral Arts District? By tak­ing off its head, nat­u­rally. Six mu­seum staffers de­tached the ap­prox­i­mately 36-kilo­gram skull, low­ered it to the ground with a scis­sor lift and … moved on to the next item. Lo­gis­ti­cal prob­lems such as this one come with the ter­ri­tory when a mu­seum de­cides to move, of course, but the sheer scale of the en­tire ex­er­cise can be hard for the pub­lic to wrap their minds around. “We’ve got 2.4 mil­lion pieces in our col­lec­tion and we’re mov­ing about two mil­lion of them to the new lo­ca­tion,” says Chris Robin­son, the mu­seum’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “How do you move two mil­lion pieces? You do it care­fully and you do it once.” To that end, the mu­seum is us­ing a bar­code sys­tem to keep track of what’s gone out the old doors and in the new ones, which are ex­pected to open to the pub­lic some­time in 2018. As of mid-jan­uary, about 71,000 bar codes — “That’s 1.6 kilo­me­tres long,” says Robin­son — had been ap­plied to the ap­prox­i­mately 422,000 ar­ti­facts and spec­i­mens re­lo­cated so far. Dis­play­ing and stor­ing those mil­lions of ar­ti­facts is go­ing to be much eas­ier in the new mu­seum than it was in the old one, which de­spite ex­pand­ing al­most con­tin­u­ously through the late 1960s and ’70s af­ter open­ing as the Pro­vin­cial Mu­seum of Al­berta in De­cem­ber 1967 was still not big enough to house most of its col­lec­tion. In the new build­ing, for ex­am­ple, the amount of per­ma­nent gallery space has more than dou­bled, while the stor­age ar­eas have 2½ times the ca­pac­ity com­pared with the old build­ing. Robin­son be­lieves all that space will help fu­ture-proof the mu­seum, the col­lec­tions of which will only keep grow­ing. “His­tory doesn’t stand still,” he says. “And nei­ther does the mu­seum.”

Ken Ro­manyshyn moves a care­fully pack­aged model of a gi­ant bi­son onto a truck.

Clock­wise from above: Pa­le­on­tol­ogy ex­hibit spe­cial­ist Peter Milot ar­tic­u­lates a horse skele­ton be­fore pack­ing it; a gi­ant bi­son skull awaits its box; lad­ders and part of a cus­tom­made crate; mu­seum mas­cot Moe the mam­moth at a mu­seum good­bye party.

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