Royal BC Museum: modernization is long overdue

Melanie Mark, Hli Haykwhl Ẃii X̱sgaak, is British Columbia’s Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, responsible for the RBCM. She is the only First Nations woman to have been elected as a Member of Parliament and appointed to Cabinet.

The Royal BC Museum is one of our province’s greatest cultural icons and most important institutions. It is curated and maintained by outstanding experts and visited and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people each year, both locally and internationally.

The museum has served British Columbians and visitors for 135 years. Landmark exhibits like Old Town and the First Peoples Gallery have been etched in the memory of several generations of BC children, including my own daughters.

The exhibits have captured the imaginations of countless people, teleporting us to various times in our province’s past and, as adults, taking us back to when we first gazed at the rows of totem poles or the gigantic mammoth .

Ensuring that future generations have access to these transformative experiences is a profound responsibility for me and for Premier John Horgan. Although the museum has stood in its current location since 1967, it has not undergone major repairs, renovations or upgrades for decades.

The museum’s downtown facilities include five buildings on two acres, hosting everything from research to restoration to repatriation.

Unfortunately, the facilities are at the end of their useful life. They are at seismic risk and are vulnerable to damage. In the event of a major flood, irreplaceable artifacts and pieces of British Columbia’s history could be damaged and lost forever.

The construction materials used do not meet modern safety standards. Exhibits like the Old Town are full of asbestos. Additionally, the building does not meet today’s accessibility standards, which prevents many people from experiencing the museum.

There are seven million objects under our stewardship at the Royal BC Museum. Put end to end, the total length of the archival documents would extend over 27 kilometers. To continue without major changes poses a serious risk to our collective history and our precious artifacts.

That is why, after decades of neglect, our government committed in the Speech from the Throne in 2019 and 2020 to protect our collective heritage and give the museum the respect it deserves. In 2019, we asked the public what a reimagined Royal BC Museum might look like.

We heard that British Columbians want us to make changes that will include the voices and experiences of BC communities and people. People want exhibits that are dynamic and interactive, a museum that connects with a wide range of communities, that is a place of learning, and that cultivates our living history.

I think most people in British Columbia would agree with the need to fully and accurately reflect the history of our province. As our province’s flagship historic center, the Royal BC Museum has a duty to preserve the past with an equal responsibility to accurately reflect a timeline of our shared history.

We must act now. A new, modern museum is long overdue, for the safety of all visitors, to remove barriers so everyone can access it, and to keep our irreplaceable collections safe. Moving on without a major redevelopment is not an option for anyone serious about managing BC’s history and culture.

Our goal is to build a state-of-the-art facility that provides an educational and cultural legacy to the province while bringing significant economic and social benefits to the region.

A new Royal BC Museum will build on the foundations for which the world-class museum is known, with a facility that reflects modern safety, environmental and accessibility standards and reflects a broader representation of many people, events and cultures that are part of British Columbia. Columbia’s rich and vibrant history.

A business case has been developed and over the next few months we will present all aspects of the plan for the new museum, including the scope and budget of the project. I look forward to announcing the next steps.

I know that people are passionate about their museum. I have heard the different views expressed by British Columbians about the future embodiment of our past. I also want to be very clear, none of our stories will be erased or destroyed.

As we move forward, we want to continue to hear from people and strong community engagement, including continuing our work with local First Nations, will continue to inform the modernization of the museum. Our exhibits will continue to tell the story of our past, as they have for decades. But now we will have the ability to make sure everyone, both digitally and in person, is included and everyone can experience these stories.

A new, state-of-the-art Royal BC Museum legacy will be built as a renewed legacy for generations to come.

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James C. Tibbs