The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre offered guided tours of its collection storeroom for a couple of evenings in July — allowing the public to see historical artifacts, ancient archeology, fossils and art after usual visiting hours.
The result? Those tours were all booked up within 48 hours.
It was a unique opportunity for the public to see the other 95 per cent of collected items, many of which are part of past exhibits and are preserved in a tightly controlled climate to keep them intact.
Ryan Silke, the heritage centre's curatorial assistant, recently took CBC North's Alyssa Mosher on a tour.
In the staff-only section of the museum, there are bronze statues of the heads of well-known community personalities and government leaders. The territorial government commissioned Canadian sculptor Harold Pfeiffer to do the work.
One is of Gus D'Aoust, a Métis fur trapper from Manitoba who trapped around the N.W.T. from the 1920s to the 1970s.
Another sculpture is of Harriet Gladue, who was a midwife and a respected elder in Tulita. Silke said people turned to her for her expertise, even after a health centre opened up in the community.
"[Harriet] is someone that [has] a lot of descendants that are still around … who do come here quite frequently. The emotional reactions that we witness are really powerful," he said.
Another bronze statue is of Helen Kalvak, an Inuinnait graphic artist from Ulukhaktok, N.W.T.
She established an artist cooperative in the community and made more than 1,800 drawings during her lifetime.
The bronze bust "reflects an artist herself, a real prolific printmaker and artist."
Her work is exhibited across the country, said Silke.
Planning exhibits a complex process
At any given time, the museum has between three and five per cent of its collections on public display, which Silke said was "pretty typical" for a museum.
"A lot of what we do here is catering to researchers and relatives of people that have objects in the collection," he said.
"If people have any questions about, oh, do you have any of my grandfather's tools or grandmother's beading, we're more than welcome to do a search for you and find out exactly what we do have," he said.
Archeological finds are also a major part of the collection, said Silke.
"When people, researchers and archaeologists are on the land, they will do an excavation and whatever they find has to come back to us for future research."
For example, there are collections from the 500-year-old Kuukpak site, where Inuvialuit have hunted, fished and wintered along the banks of the Mackenzie River.
"All kinds of stuff is falling out of the riverbank as the river erodes and permafrost degrades," said Silke.
"They're finding a lot of stuff, and stuff that's going to be lost forever if it's not collected. So this is a really important site for Inuvialuit history."
The collection includes hunting and fishing tools, snow knives, adzes (a cutting tool) and items of adornment. There are also needles for preparing hides, labret piercing jewelry and pendants.
Booking a tour
The tours were very popular and were booked up within 48 hours.
Silke said people can still request to visit the collection storeroom, and they plan to put on more public tours of it in the winter.