History is in the eye of the beholder

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The coming demise of The Zoo got us to thinking about historic buildings.

The Zoo, a complex of buildings from the 1950s, certainly has a long and colourful history, and some people consider it to be historic.

We would probably agree that The Zoo is historic with its past as a bar, restaurant, hotel, post office, pharmacy and who knows what else. But that’s only because there are so few historic buildings in Hay River, and even in the North.

In many parts of Canada, The Zoo would simply be considered an eyesore to be removed as quickly as possible, and its 60 years or so of existence would not make it anything special.

In Hay River, 60 years make The Zoo one of the older buildings in this still young town.

But that does not mean it is worth preserving.

If things were different – say, if the buildings did not appear to have survived a riot and look like they could fall down in a stiff breeze – maybe an effort could be made to save them. (Beyond the current plan to salvage the cedar logs and perhaps a corner building for the museum.)

But no one – not government and certainly no private citizen or company – is going to spend the money to repair The Zoo. It’s not clear that could even be done.

The Zoo, a building which dates back to the 1950s in Old Town, is about to be dismantled by the Department of Infrastructure.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

The difference between an historic building and just another building is not always easy to see, and it is a judgment call made from multitude factors, not just the age of a structure.

For example, when the time comes for it to be removed we doubt there will be much nostalgia for the Mackenzie Place highrise.

History is in the eye of the beholder, or more accurately in the memories of people.

Many people apparently have fond memories of The Zoo, and are sad to see work begin to forever remove it.

We have just two very distinct memories of The Zoo.

One was the unevenness of the floor in the restaurant. It was so bad that you seemed to be staggering as you walked to a table.

The second memory was when a vehicle was somehow scratched while it was parked outside The Zoo. When the vehicle owner saw the scratch while leaving the establishment, he thought it would be a good idea to key all the other cars and trucks parked outside in some kind of random revenge. Luckily, his girlfriend talked him out of that plan.

Ah, memories.

Not exactly the kind of recollections that will end up in history books, but memories nevertheless.

We’re not sure what kind of memories other people may have of The Zoo, but we suspect that they are not of any profound political decisions, creative breakthroughs or cultural milestones.

We’re not trying to demean those memories, because they may be, well, memorable for those people, and they are part of the history of Hay River. And that makes The Zoo historic.

However, while those memories may live on, there is no way the structure can be preserved.

The Zoo itself is about to become history.