One of the most important cultural buildings on the Hay River Reserve is undergoing a significant renovation.
Work began in February on improvements to the arbour, a circular structure which has been on the reserve for almost a decade.
“For the community, it’s a gathering place, a social place,” said Ken Norn, the chief operating officer of Naegha Zhia Inc., the development arm of K’atlodeeche First Nation (KFN).
Norn has been overseeing the work by the development corporation’s building crew.
A new wooden floor is one of the most significant changes, since it replaces a gravel surface.
Norn said many elders used to complain about the gravel when they were having a drum dance.
“Now we have a floor, and people are going to enjoy the dance,” he said. “People used to get all dusty and dirty from dancing on the gravel, and it was awkward for them.”
Plus, Norn said the wooden floor will make it more convenient for many events, such as handgames, meetings and workshops.
Prior to the renovations, the arbour’s roof had a large opening – about 18 feet in diameter. There is now one main central skylight about eight feet across, along with eight smaller skylights around the rest of the roof.
The arbour still has a central fire pit, even though the building is now closed in.
Norn said four fans have been installed in the ceiling to remove smoke from the structure.
Doors have also been added to the arbour.
“It used to be just wide open before,” said Norn. “Kids used to come in here and go quading, and just making a mess in here. It’s kind of contained now.”
In addition, the formerly screened area around the perimeter of the arbour has been closed in and windows have been installed.
“We’re keeping the elements out,” Norn said, noting that includes bugs and rain in the summertime.
The bleachers along the walls have also been upgraded so that the gravel below the bleachers is no long visible.
As of right now, the arbour is not insulated, although that step is being considered.
The only insulation is behind the bleachers.
“I’m hoping that we’re going to insulate it and close it in,” said Norn.
Scotty Edgerton, the outgoing K’atlodeeche First Nation CEO, said insulation is being considered by the band council.
“We’ve talked about it, but we haven’t made an approval on it,” he said.
Edgerton explained there is some debate about whether insulation is needed, or if the central fireplace, along with a heater, would be enough to keep the building warm.
“That might be enough to keep it constant,” he said. “If not, we would probably go to electricity.”
Edgerton said it will be a matter of waiting to see if insulation is needed.
If the arbour begins to be used in the winter, artificial lighting would also likely have to be considered for night-time use.
Edgerton said the current renovations will probably cost about $150,000. That money comes from annual community public infrastructure funding from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
The CEO said the renovations will make the arbour more usable by various groups and different programs, such as crafts, drumming and dancing.
“I think it gives a wider scope. It can be used winter and summer,” he said.
The arbour was built just in advance of the 36th Dene National Assembly, which was held on the Hay River Reserve in 2006.
Norn, who was the capital projects manager at time for KFN, designed the building.
It was constructed in 17 days, he recalled. “The last bit of paint was going on and people were arriving for the national assembly.”