CALGARY — Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame is closing the doors on its Calgary museum until the end of 2020, but will still announce a class of inductees this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the Hall’s major spring fundraiser. The Hall also cancelled October’s induction gala, which was another revenue generator.
Temporarily shuttering the museum was a financial survival step, according to the Hall’s chief executive officer Cheryl Bernard.
“We need to do the responsible thing by minimizing our overhead so that we come out the other side and continue to do our job preserving history and educating Canadians on the value of sport, but also respecting we’re going to need time,” Bernard told The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
The Hall will continue to operate digital media and educational programming, and plan mobile exhibits for a time when social gatherings are allowed, Bernard said.
But the doors on a building that opened less than a decade ago in Calgary are closed for the rest of the calendar year.
“We’ve lost a significant amount of revenue because of COVID-19,” Bernard said.
The Hall has inducted 670 athletes and builders ranging from hockey’s Wayne Gretzky to Canadian cross-country ski founder Herman (Jackrabbit) Smith-Johannsen to racehorse Northern Dancer.
In honour of the Hall’s 65th anniversary, six athletes and five builders will be announced May 27 for induction.
“I phoned all eleven of them last week and said ‘you are going to be the class of 2020 and 2021,’” Bernard said.
“They deserve the same induction that the last 65 classes have received. We’re just going to roll them over to next year. We just won’t select a class next year.”
The spring fundraiser and fall induction gala are the Hall’s largest annual revenue generators at a combined $450,000.
Bernard was not comfortable making financial deposits on an induction gala and seeking sponsorship for it while the virus wreaks societal and economic havoc.
“We’re going out to the corporate and private communities and asked to sell fifteen-thousand-dollar tables and look for fifty-thousand-dollar sponsors, I stood in front of my board and said ‘it’s just not right. Our community is going to need time to heal,’” she explained.
“I wouldn’t consider us a critical charity. We’re not the food bank. We’re a charity that does incredible good in this country, but not a critical one.”
The Hall was housed in various locations in Toronto for decades, but was without a physical building for a six-year span until Calgary’s 4,100-square metre facility opened in 2011.
The museum featuring interactive exhibits, a theatre and 100,000 artifacts in a dozen galleries was built with a price tag of $30 million.
The cost was split between the federal government ($15 million), provincial government ($10 million) and the City of Calgary ($5 million).
Bernard, an Olympic silver medallist in curling, was named the Hall’s chief executive officer in 2018.
She estimates the museum had 40,000 visitors in 2019. Admission fees represent a small portion of the Hall’s revenue, she added.
Located in Canada Olympic Park on Calgary’s west end, Bernard says not enough tourists turn off the Trans-Canada Highway to visit.
“Our numbers at the Hall for physical visitors isn’t outstanding,” she acknowledged. “We’ve worked the last two years to reach out to all Canadians and not just those who walk through our door.”
Bernard says the Hall is conducting a feasibility study for a relocation to downtown.
In the meantime, students at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) have replicated the Hall’s physical galleries in mobile digital kiosks, Bernard said.
“Education is our number one pillar and we’ll continue once the ban has been lifted for the schools,” Bernard said.
“Our Hall of Famers go out across Canada to schools all over. We do virtual presentations and that is all still moving forward.
“That to us is the next step to being more of a digital outreach than just a physical structure.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2020.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press