Royal Alberta Museum to open in early 2018

Go behind the scenes at the Royal Alberta Museum as around 160 staffers move 2.4 million artifacts, tracking it all with a kilometre of barcodes.

'Making a museum is pretty hard stuff'

The downtown location of the Royal Alberta Museum is set to open in early 2018. (John Robertson/CBC)

Chris Robinson points to a glassed-in area on the roof of the new Royal Alberta Museum.

"This is our greenhouse where we'll grow the plants for our bug room," explains the museum's executive director.

It's one of the new features in the space at 103A Avenue and 98th Street, which is expected to open to the public in early 2018, according to Robinson.

The $375.5-million project will feature 72,000 square feet of permanent exhibition space, roughly double the area in the museum's old location which closed in December 2015.

According to Alberta Infrastructure, no firm decision has been made about the future use of the Glenora facility.

"Making a museum is pretty hard stuff"

4 years ago
Chris Robinson, executive director of the Royal Alberta Museum, gives us a sneak peek of the new downtown location of the RAM opening in 2018. 2:08

The new location will showcase 400 exhibits displaying 5,300 objects.

Standing in one of three new large loading bays where a steady stream of trucks deposit wooden crates filled with display cases, artifacts and models Robinson admits, "making a museum is pretty hard stuff.

"The museum has 99 permanent staff and we have about 60 temporarily helping us with the mammoth task of moving the new museum downtown," Robinson said.
Some of the ice age fossil casts have already been moved into the downtown location of the Royal Alberta Museum. (John Robertson/CBC)

As the opening date draws nearer, Robinson can't wait for visitors to see the new facility. Standing in the main lobby, he said he believes the spaces is laid out in an intuitive way. 

"You can see all the galleries, you can see the admissions desk, you can see the cafe, you can see the gift shop so everything will just, I hope, make sense to the visitor."

Robinson thinks they've also been able to blur the line between previously off-limit areas of the museum and the everyday guest experience.

He points to the nursery in the popular bug room, where the creepy crawlers hatch, something the public will be able to see for themselves. 

Carmen Li, who is helping to pack up 2.4 million objects in the collection and making sure it all gets safely to the new location, has converted the old feature gallery space into an inspection and packing centre.

"We're staging artifacts and specimens that will be going on display at the new museum," said Li, head of conservation. 

"Mammoth" show and tell at the Royal Alberta Museum

4 years ago
Meet head of conservation Carmen Li and learn more about how they're preparing the Royal Alberta Museum collection for the move to the new downtown location opening in 2018. 3:21

Dressed in white gloves and lab coats, staff painstakingly clean and stabilize artifacts for transport.

Many of the objects are getting something new, a barcode.

"Now will be able to track their every step downtown to the new museum," said assistant curator of geology Melissa Bowerman standing in the gem vault amid samples of gold, meteorites and crystals.
Melissa Bowerman, assistant curator of geology, is busy barcoding the collection for the move downtown. (John Robertson/CBC)

Robinson estimates they've printed a kilometre worth of barcodes for the museum on the move.

"It's a lot of work to make a space that's 419,000 square feet. We've got a pretty busy summer ahead."

You can see more from the old and new locations of the Royal Alberta Museum on Our Edmonton: Capital Gems Edition Saturday at 10 a.m. and Sunday and Monday a 11 a.m. on CBC TV. 

A specimen of gold in the Royal Alberta Museum gem vault receives a barcode in preparation for the move downtown. (John Robertson/CBC)


Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.