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Exploring the jewels kept out of sight at the Royal Alberta Museum

WATCH ABOVE: The Royal Alberta Museum is home to hundreds of thousands of treasures, and Michel Boyer takes us to a part of the museum we’ve never been before.

Edmonton Off Limits is a special series that takes you behind closed doors to places that are usually forbidden or too dangerous for the general public.

EDMONTON – The Royal Alberta Museum is home to thousands of historic artefacts, gems, jewels and paintings – many over a century old.

But the museum is getting ready to move from west of Groat Road to its new downtown facility. It is one of the biggest and most complex moves the province has ever seen.

That means precious items need to be carefully packed up, but they can’t be put into a box with bubble wrap.

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“These objects were formerly just stored on the shelves, open,” explained Cathy Roy, curator with the Royal Alberta Museum.

“But we knew that we had to pack them to move and we made custom boxes for them.”

The moving boxes are made from easel board, bubble wrap and Styrofoam.

Roy handles a number of collections in the museum, including donations from the McDougall family.

John McDougall, the fourth mayor of Edmonton, started buying furniture and decorations for his home. Now, many are in the vaults of the museum.

“We can’t display everything we have,” Roy explained. “We have hundreds of thousands of items in the museum.”

She said artifacts are out on display depending on the curatorial agenda.

“It’s not good for artifacts to be out all the time,” she said.

Cathy Roy shows Michel some of the things in the McDougall collection. Global News
This is a candle holder ready to be moved to the new downtown facility. Global News
Hundreds of pairs of shoes are kept in the museum vaults, some are over 100 years old. Global News
The museum has an elevator so big it can carry a dinosaur skeleton. Global News
This is a cut gem that is kept inside the vaults of the Royal Alberta Museum. Global News
This is an uncut diamond kept in the museum vault. Global News
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This gem is called Kunzite, it is kept in the museum vault. Global News
Rocks from outer space are also kept inside the museum vaults. This one is semi-transparent with rich particles of colour. Global News

Aside from the McDougall collection, Roy also showed us one of her favourites: the shoe collection.

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In another part of the museum vaults, there are racks with hundreds of pairs of shoes. One pair dates back more than 140 years.

“They have lovely little rosettes made of kid leather on the toes,” she explained.

“But what’s really interesting about them is they don’t have a left or right, they are just a straight sole.”

Women would shape the shoes by which one she wore on which foot. That is how shoes were made back then.

The museum also has a lot of old clothes – but mostly from women. The museum struggles to get regular clothes donated from men.

“We have a lot of tuxedos, we have wedding suits, we have the shirt that the groom wore, but everyday dress is much harder to come by,” she said.

Roy reminded us that the clothes we wear today are part of our current history, and she hopes more men think about donating their clothing.

Behind closed doors

There are parts of the museum that very few can access, even among people who work there.

The vault that holds gold, gemstones, rubies and even meteors is climate controlled and if the door is left open too long, alarms begin to sound.

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The strict control is because of the value of the items in the vault and many of the stones are sensitive to changes in humidity levels, light and temperature.

If you have any Off Limits story ideas for our next series, please email us at edmontonofflimits@globalnews.ca.

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