north-robertson-shaft-file

The Con Mine's Robertson shaft headframe, which was built in the mid-1970s, was slated for demolition last year until residents lobbied city council to save it. ((CBC))

Finding a way to save the Robertson shaft headframe, a towering icon from Yellowknife's mining history, appears to be as tall an order as the 25-storey structure itself.

The long-abandoned headframe, located at the city's defunct Con gold mine, was recently spared from demolition following a public outcry in November.

Residents who lobbied against tearing it down said the structure — a prominent landmark in the city's skyline — could be transformed into a tourist attraction, a science centre or even a corporate headquarters.

But when city officials issued a formal request for proposals for the headframe in February, they did not receive a single response.

Consultants hired to gather ideas

"Some people didn't realize that there was a request for proposals. And then again, for small groups … to take that project on, you're over-committing yourself," said Walt Humphries, president of the N.W.T. Mining Heritage Society.

"There doesn't seem to be enough people willing to form their own 'Let's Save the Robertson Society.' That may happen if nobody else steps forward, but you just have to wait and see."

The city has now asked consultants from Outcrop, a local firm, to gather ideas and proposals for preserving the Robertson shaft headframe. The consultants are expected to present the ideas to the city this summer.

"The collection of ideas and the opportunities would be available to anyone," said Peter Neugebauer, the city's director of economic development.

"That's the purpose of this work, is to put all the good [ideas] — and perhaps some of the not-so-good ideas — all in one place."

The Con Mine site's current owner, Newmont Mining Corp., had originally planned to demolish the Robertson shaft headframe as it works on cleaning up the site. The mine produced gold over for 65 years until it closed in 2003.

Tallest structure in N.W.T.

Residents argued that in addition to being a historic building, the headframe currently acts as a wayfinding marker for pilots, snowmobilers and boaters on Great Slave Lake.

The Yellowknife Heritage Committee recently recommended that the Robertson shaft headframe be declared a heritage site.

"There's absolutely no doubt about the fact that it is a landmark — it's the tallest structure in the N.W.T.," committee chair Catherine Pellerin said.

"I know [for] a lot of sailors, you know, it's the first thing they see and it gives them a sense of, 'Oh, we're almost home,' you know?"

Humphries said he wants the towering landmark saved, but he is not sure if it will be.

"To be realistic, it's about a 50-50 chance," he said.

"If you take that building over, there is the responsibility of maintaining it and keeping it in good standing. So there is a cost involved."