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Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat getting a refresh

Funding will help Cochrane tourist attraction rejuvenate decade-old exhibits

COCHRANE — The Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat is making progress on its efforts to redesign some of its exhibits.

The habitat received a $75,000 grant in October to hire Science North for the project.

The first phase of the project is developing a high-level concept plan which involving in-person workshops, development of key messages and goals and a review of existing exhibits and refurbishment opportunities, said Amy Baxendell-Young, the habitat's manager. She was at Cochrane council on March 12 to update members about what's been happening at the facility.

“And so we've kind of kicked that off straight away really. We're going to be having two brainstorming sessions with a few different stakeholders from the community in the area on what kind of concepts and themes we want to bring together,” she said.

Once that phase of the project is completed, she said they will begin connecting with donors and corporate sponsors, “some of which have already shown interest in supporting the project.”

The current exhibits in the facility are close to 10 years old, Baxendell-Young said.

“So we're really excited to get these upgrades done…. There’s a lot that needs to be updated with what we've learnt. And it's really going to help to bring that tourism in as well,” she said.

The upgrades mark a modest turnaround for the tourist attraction, which was in danger of closing permanently just a few years ago.

In a 2019 financial review prepared for the centre, it was noted that it cost roughly $400,000 annually in taxpayer money to run the facility, which had not made a profit in its 15 years of operation.

Council at the time opted to fund the facility for one year while studying its future viability.

Since then, the centre's fortunes have begun to trend upward.

Last summer, attendance at the centre was up from 2022, and admission revenue increased by more than $12,000, while the gift shop brought in revenue of more than $18,000.

Then this past fall, the Cochrane Polar Bear Habitat board provided $75,000 toward the cost of the new exhibit design, and fundraising is ongoing to support the centre's activities.

Created in 2004 as a tourist attraction and research centre, the Habitat is billed as "the world's only non-profit organization that provides sanctuary to polar bears in need of human care."

It currently houses three polar bears named Ganuk, Henry, and Inukshuk on 24 acres of land.

— TimminsToday