While negotiations between the city and Teck to reopen the museum's mining adit plod on with no external signs of progress, the museum has now closed its doors after a second consecutive season without their biggest attraction.
"Visitation was down for sure," said Libby Martin, the president of the Rossland Historical Museum and Archives Association that operates the museum and maintains the city's collection of archives and artefacts.
She acknowledged that tourism was relatively low in general, but she added, "Definitely the lack of the mine tour has seriously affected the museum operations. Our finances have been affected as a result."
The tour of the mining adit had a strong international reputation and drew big crowds until Halloween, 2009, when three visiting students were accidentally locked in the mine after the annual RSS Fright Night (some suspect the students hid out as the final sweep passed them by while others claim it was an honest mistake). In any case Teck, which owns the adit, closed the mine down for a serious review of safety and liability issues.
Mayor Greg Granstrom, who sits as the city representative at the monthly museum association board meetings and is also the city's point person in ongoing negotiations with Teck, has nothing to report.
"We're dealing with some huge safety issues and how we can get around them," Granstrom explained. "It's sensitive. I have to respect the wishes of the people that are negotiating."
"I am optimistic that something positive will come out of this," he said. "I think [negotiations] have moved forward, but there are issues that are very, very serious to Teck and to the city."
Another meeting later this month should yield some reportable progress, the mayor hoped. Meanwhile, the museum is trying to hold itself together.
"We're trying to think of ways to bring people to the museum, to create museum awareness with different activities," Martin said. "We don't have the big drawing card we had before. That's not to say we can't find another drawing card should someone have a brilliant idea. But we can't sit there and say, 'When we get the mine tour…' because maybe we won't. It's a question of keeping the museum going, keeping the doors open and finding ways to do that."
A strategic planning session with the board at the end of October will address ideas for new directions.
"Are we still viable? As long as we continue to have city support, I'd like to think so," she said. The museum also gets support from the Friends of the Museum, a loose organization of individuals who help out when they can to support the valuable services the museum provides, services such as housing artefacts and large archives for historical or family research, and putting Rossland's rich history on display for visitors, schoolchildren, and others.
The museum employs Joyce Austin as the museum manager to provide these services and a number of students are hired each summer to give tours, but otherwise the museum is a volunteer organization.
"Two years ago we started keeping track of volunteer hours so we could see what they were being used to do," Martin said. She recently added up the time spent setting up displays, putting on events, and so on, from September 2010 to September 2011.
"It was 6500 volunteer hours! If you put a dollar figure on that…well you can do the math," she said. "Without those volunteers, we would not be able to continue to do what we do."
If you want to get involved, volunteers will soon be needed to host an event at the Rouge Gallery—Nov. 22, 7:00 to 9:30 p.m.—where Ron Shearer will give a presentation on the history of skiing at Red before the advent of the chairlift.
If you want to dig in deeper, the association's AGM will be held in the last week of November, though no date is yet set.
For information, contact Libby Martin at 250-362-9472, or Joyce Austin at the museum, 250-362-7722, where she is now working an off-season schedule of two days per week.