Charting a New Course for the Maritime Museum of British Columbia

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The Maritime Museum of BC has been in the process of re-structuring its organization since moving out of the old Bastion Square Courthouse location in December 2015. Thanks to the ongoing generosity of our donors, sponsors, patrons and landlord, Wottrich Holdings Ltd., the Maritime Museum of British Columbia has been able to maintain a steady course during these turbulent times. Not only has the Museum been able to financially survive thanks to all of this generous support, but it has also been able to establish several new educational and public outreach initiatives plus create new signature events including the Victoria Day Block Party, in addition to taking over the operation of the Victoria Classic Boat Festival. Furthermore, the Museum regularly hosts onsite workshops and special events such as the new Nautical Nights guest speaker series and has been able to significantly grow its membership.

In 2014, it was announced that the Museum was to dramatically downsize operations when the Bastion Square building fell into a major state of disrepair. David Leverton, the Executive Director of the Maritime Museum of BC, pointed out that “it was a real blow to the organization to lose its long-term home of 50 years and not be offered another location to be able to publicly display our extensive maritime collection for the benefit of BC residents and visitors to the capital region. Our much smaller location only allows us to offer temporary exhibits on a rotational basis and greatly limits what we can showcase and interpret for the public at any one time.”

The collection, which has been safeguarded by the Maritime Museum of BC since its inception in 1955, contains 3 sailing vessels of historic significance to BC, 35,000 artefacts, 8,000 library books including rare publications, and an extensive archives collection, which includes textual documents, ships’ plans, and maps and charts. The majority of the collection is stored in an off-site climate controlled facility provided by the province of BC; however, there is only limited time remaining on the lease for this space. There is also an additional off-site storage location of almost 3,000 sq/ft that is not climate controlled, which poses significant risks to this portion of the collection.

The Maritime Museum of BC has been working with their local provincial representative, MLA Carole James, and federal representative, MP Murray Rankin, to try and find positive, long-term solutions that both preserve the collection and allow it to be properly displayed and interpreted for the public. Don Prittie, the President of the Maritime Museum of BC, stated that, “We have the opportunity to deliver an important museum attraction of national significance that recognizes the last ten thousand years of our west coast marine heritage and culture, but it requires a lot of political will, similar to the effort that is going into the proposed development of a new Arts Hub in our old Bastion Square location.” The Museum would like to see the establishment of a joint federal/provincial working group to assist in coordinating ongoing planning with each of the government departments who have a vested interest in any future land and building development projects. There are currently six provincial ministries that need to be involved in any decision making process.

The Maritime Museum of BC previously received regular provincial government support, but that was slowly reduced over the years. Now, any funds the Museum receives from all three levels of government are only gained through grant applications.

Leverton stated that, “We want to design a new purpose-built Museum that displays our maritime history and culture and recognizes our ongoing relationship with the ocean.” Canada does not have a national maritime museum and the Board of the Maritime Museum of BC is hopeful that a new arrangement can be worked out with Ottawa and the province to showcase and educate the public about our west coast maritime heritage for the benefit of all Canadians. “The vision is for an informal learning centre that not only features exhibits about our history and coastal environments, but also provides classrooms, research and lecture space. We want more space so we can continue to build on the successes we have achieved in our small space at Nootka Court. We want to engage more with our BC community and have a positive impact in more people’s lives. But in order to do so, we do require a significantly larger location.”

The Maritime Museum of BC would like to be in a more permanent setting by 2021, which is the 150th anniversary of BC’s entry into confederation.

Learn more at: http://www.mmbc.bc.ca

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