Premier Brian Pallister was one of the dignitaries wielding a shovel at the official groundbreaking for the Winnipeg Art Gallery's $65-million Inuit Art Centre — but his shovel was filled with more than dirt.
The Tory premier announced an additional $5 million in capital funding from the province, bringing Manitoba's total contribution to the same $15 million figure that had been promised by the former NDP government.
But there's a catch: the province will give the money as $1 for every $2 raised from donors, up to the maximum of $5 million.
Pallister said despite the NDP promising money, when his party came to power in 2016, it found no money had been aside for the museum. "Not one dime," he said.
The Tory government eventually promised to contribute $10 million to the WAG project, waiting until Friday to announce the additional $5 million.
Pallister said the 106-year-old WAG is an "iconic cultural institution in Manitoba."
"Through exhibits, educational programs and special events, it enlightens tens of thousands of visitors each year. It will inspire greater understanding of northern art and culture while serving as an important resource to our community."
Steven Borys, the WAG's director and chief executive officer, said he welcomed the money — and construction would begin soon, with the museum planned to open its doors in 2020, in time for the province's 150th birthday.
"This is a great day for our city, province and country, but most importantly, for the Inuit," Borys said. "There's a story in every piece of art, and we have thousands of stories we can tell."
Earlier, the groundbreaking ceremony began with a drum dance, throat singing, and the lighting of a lamp traditionally used to heat an igloo.
The WAG has long had the largest collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world, but the vast bulk of its collection has been stored and unseen by the public for decades, as there wasn't enough space to showcase it.
Now, in a planned 40,000-square-foot, four-storey building, with an interactive theatre and house studio art and learning program for students, the WAG will have the space to display its 13,000 pieces of Inuit art, including carvings, drawings, prints, textiles, and new media.
Borys said the money from the province announced Friday means the WAG has raised $57 million for the project.
Several of the speakers at the groundbreaking connected the Inuit Art Gallery to Canada's commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous people.
"It's the single greatest challenge to our generation, and the Inuit Art Gallery will address one of the major thrusts from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: education," Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said.
Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a non-profit organization which works to improve the health and well-being of Inuit in Canada, said it's important for Inuit people to participate in both the governance and curation of the exhibits in the new museum.
"As Inuit art continues to be one of the primary ways that people of southern Canada and around the world learn about who we are, I hope this gallery proves to be a new entry point to better understanding and respecting Canadian Inuit art, and by extension, greater respect for our communities and our homeland," Obed said.
Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.