A commentary by the former Deputy General Manager and Vice President of the Royal BC Museum Corp., 2003-2018.
In 1886 the Royal BC Museum was established and the BC Archives in 1894. The museum was first located in the Bird Cages, then moved for a short time to Bastion Square, then to the West Wing of the Legislature until a new building for the museum was created as a centenary project in 1967, with a new building for the archives shortly thereafter.
In 2003, after the basic review by the BC Liberal government of the day, the Royal BC Museum became a Crown corporation, changing from a central government to an entity that included both the BC Archives and the Royal BC Museum, as well as oversight of Wawadit’s Mungo Martin House, St. Ann’s Schoolhouse, Helmcken House and the Netherlands Centennial Carillon.
The Royal BC Museum and BC Archives are located on the unceded territories of the Lekwungen (Songhees and Xwsepsum Nations).
For the past 19 years, the Liberal and New Democrat governments have instructed the Royal BC Museum Corp. for it to continue the renewal and redevelopment of its site. These government guidelines can be viewed on the Royal BC Museum’s website, with the first mention of redevelopment beginning with the 2005-2006 service plan during the Liberal government’s tenure.
In 2011, the Royal BC Museum completed a rezoning on its site, allowing for a substantial new building complex and merging what were then 29 single-family lots into one comprehensive development area. This zone information can be found on the City of Victoria website.
This is important as several levels of government have long been aware of and have encouraged the Royal BC Museum to pursue the redevelopment of its site, in order to address a number of long-standing issues with its infrastructure, including seismic safety and lack of accessibility; and also to continue to be a driving force for tourism.
During this time, numerous articles have been written, concepts have been proposed, and tours and presentations have been made locally and across the province to solicit input from British Columbians on their thoughts on the future. museum and archives. Capital projects were also undertaken – in the order of $20 million, which were mostly invisible to the public and simply allowed more time before more extreme repair/renovation/replacement measures were taken. .
I have written many of these articles and briefing notes, and made these presentations to politicians at all levels, the business community, active and potential donors, partners, Indigenous leaders and people across the province before I retired in 2018.
To suggest that the decision to provide funding for the redevelopment of the Royal BC Museum is “recent” and without consultation does a disservice to the many professionals and individuals from BC communities who provided feedback and created detailed reports. and analyzes of possible options. for this NDP government and the previous Liberal government so that they can make informed decisions.
British Columbians deserve family doctors, hospitals, education and a solution to the opioid crisis and homelessness. The government must fund these important initiatives and address these societal issues by providing ongoing year-to-year operational funds associated with these public priorities.
However, to suggest that this is an “either/or” situation does not sufficiently acknowledge the responsibility of governments to also provide safe access to public buildings and invest in infrastructure for future generations. These capital investments ensure that the company continues to modernize and move forward and are repayable over time as one-time (non-continuing) capital expenditures.
I encourage anyone who has an opinion on this to familiarize themselves with the Royal BC Museum’s service plans and annual reports, in order to better understand the risks to British Columbia’s human and natural history collections and lack of representation in museum galleries.
The Royal BC Museum and BC Archives house thousands of photographs, films, recordings and spectacular artifacts illustrating British Columbia’s many Aboriginal cultures. These objects represent up to 10,000 years of history from across the province, celebrating the diversity and resilience of Indigenous peoples. It’s your museum and archive, containing more than seven million objects, specimens and records that document British Columbia’s human and natural history.
After more than 19 years of active consultation, research, analysis and preparation, the organization has reached a point where structural defects in buildings can no longer be ignored or corrected, and the lack of accessibility for people with disabilities , the lack of representation of indigenous peoples in the modern context and the need to include the voices and experiences of other unrepresented minority groups must be taken into account.
An excellent report underlying this is “Indigenous Voices on Modernization, 2019”, available in PDF format on the museum’s website, royalbcmuseum.bc.ca.
In the meantime, if you really appreciate the arts and culture in British Columbia, show some love to your little local museums and archives, especially heritage properties across the province.
Visit the Royal BC Museum’s wonderful learning portal and learn about traveling exhibits as they appear in your community. In pre-COVID times, almost a million people visited the museum, archives and Imax each year. On a busy day in the summer, more than 4,000 people could be in the building throughout the day.
If only a fraction of those people visited local properties while the museum is being transformed – local properties such as Point Ellice House, Emily Carr House, Craigdarroch Castle, Wentworth Villa, Robert Bateman Gallery, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Maritime Museum of BC, Victoria Bug Zoo, Dino Lab and Miniature World – what a difference you could make to these historic BC properties too.
Studies have shown that arts and culture play a dynamic and important role in a healthy society. I look forward to seeing what the Royal BC Museum’s new CEO, staff, volunteers, Indigenous partners and Board of Trustees will create for us all.
Yes, $800 million is a lot of money for new artistic and cultural infrastructure. But if not now, then when?