Grant reduction could give museum a shaky future

It's not easy being a not-for-profit in Whitehorse these days. Just ask the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. “It’s been tougher sledding this season,” Keith Halliday, chair of the museum’s board, told Whitehorse City Council Tuesday.

It’s not easy being a not-for-profit in Whitehorse these days.

Just ask the MacBride Museum of Yukon History.

“It’s been tougher sledding this season,” Keith Halliday, chair of the museum’s board, told Whitehorse City Council Tuesday.

Visitor numbers are down. So is federal funding. But utilities costs are rising.

Children’s camps and weekly music programs are continuing. And staff have taken on the added responsibility of offering guided tours at the S.S. Klondike. These tours were scrapped at the end of last season as the result of Parks Canada cuts. They cost the museum money, said Halliday.

It’s “like a lobster in a pot of boiling water,” he said of the mounting financial challenges.

And a proposed reduction in the amount the museum receives from the city isn’t going to help matters.

Whitehorse is in the process of approving the grants it will give different not-for-profit groups this year. There’s $140,000 set aside in the budget for these grants. But giving out the funds is proving to be a challenge.

The city gives money to help organizations pay their property taxes and utilities. Groups apply for the funding. In total, groups requested $160,000 from the city this year.

To stay within budget, the finance department is recommending each group receive 12 per cent less than what it asked for.

This means the MacBride Museum would receive $23,345 – about $3,200 less than it requested. And the museum can’t make up that shortfall on its own. It has an annual budget of $500,000, Halliday told council. Most of that comes from earned revenue.

“We try very hard to be a sustainable non-profit that isn’t always asking the government for money,” Halliday said. City grants make up less than two per cent of the museum’s “shoestring” budget, he said. The museum isn’t asking for a bailout. But it doesn’t want property taxes raised anymore. If taxes go up while municipal funds go down, the museum may have to consider laying off staff or having them spend more time fundraising instead of providing programs. It only has three year-round staff as is.

Groups were told last year they may be receiving less money from the city, said Valerie Anderson, the city’s manager of financial services, Thursday afternoon. The city is reviewing how it distributes money to various groups.

Part of the difficulty lies in the city’s policies themselves. Under the city’s Community Services Grants policy, registered charities that primarily give services to the needy are eligible for money. These grants are based on the amount of property taxes each group pays.

But this policy’s formula doesn’t apply to every group the city gives cash to. Some organizations, like Humane Society Yukon, the Downtown Urban Gardeners Society and various museums, like MacBride, have historically been given money even though they technically don’t meet the criteria for the grant. Others, like the Guild Society, which operates the Guild Hall, have their own separate leases with the city. Grants for these organizations are determined on a case-by-case basis.

There used to be two different policies, said Anderson. The Community Services Grants policy was to be an umbrella policy. But it’s all a bit of “mish-mash” right now, with different groups being treated differently, she said.

Council is in the middle of reviewing how money is being distributed, she said.

In the meantime, all organizations can do is wait. The Guild Society could receive nearly $1,500 less than what they asked for. That would be similar to scrapping the budget for costumes and props for an entire production, said artistic director Katherine McCallum. It’s a “massive effort to come up with that kind of money,” she said, comparable to adding six weeks of work to the board’s duties.

Over time, the audience would notice the cuts, she said. And if they continue, it’ll be to the community’s loss. “Without the Guild, Whitehorse would be a very sad, sad place,” she said.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

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