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Feb 5, 2019

Marine Museum Of BCBy Marianne Scott

28 Bastion Square when it was occupied by MMBC

Four years ago, the Maritime Museum of British Columbia (MMBC) lost its premises at 28 Bastion Square, a historic building it had occupied for more than 50 years. Some fallen plaster and several leaks had caused the Province, who owns the National Historic Site, to judge the structure unsafe and therefore asked MMBC to vacate the property. The Museum was forced to pack up its vast collections and put them in storage, thus keeping them mostly hidden from the public, scholars and historians.

The Museum, meanwhile, has only been able to display a fraction of its collections in a tiny 3,000-foot space, greatly limiting its ability to inform the public and researchers of our rich maritime history.

But despite this downsizing, or perhaps because of it, MMBC has developed an impressive plan to reinvent itself—by transitioning from a provincial to a national museum and housing itself once again in the Grande Dame at 28 Bastion Square. To accomplish this move, MMBC is requesting that the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada to work together toward opening a new Canadian Maritime Museum (CMM) in Victoria, on July 20, 2021. That date is important, as it commemorates the 150th anniversary of British Columbia’s becoming a province of Canada.

MMBC ConceptConcept image of the new CMM by Chris Gower, Architect and Urban Design Planner, on behalf of MMBC

Canada currently has six national museum corporations—four in the Ottawa region, and one each in Halifax and Winnipeg. Part of these museums’ mission is to prepare and exchange exhibits with other national museums—our lack of a national museum on the Pacific prevents British Columbians from benefitting from any such exchanges. As MMBC’s board chair Don Prittie said, "the return of the Museum to its renovated premises and its transformation into a Canadian Maritime Museum will ensure that the Pacific Region is included in the national museum fabric of Canada."

To accomplish the transformation from MMBC to the Canadian Maritime Museum, the Museum proposes a revamping and earthquake proofing of the Bastion Square historic site, and adding both an Annex and an offsite storage facility. These two buildings will be designed in collaboration with the Songhees Nation and consultation with other First Nations, with the hope that Indigenous historic artefacts, now elsewhere, may be returned to the Pacific region. New exhibits and hands-on interactive displays will highlight our multi-coastal heritage and culture, and showcase Canada's unique maritime science through new public outreach initiatives.

The entire rebuilding/rebranding proposal is estimated to cost about $45 million, with contributions from federal, provincial, municipal and private coffers. That may seem like a lot, but in comparison to Winnipeg’s Canadian Museum of Human Rights’ cost of $351 million, it’s a modest amount with outstanding benefits.

These benefits are clear.

• A CMM will effectively use the 28 Bastion Square’s space and thus save the Victorian Romanesque Revival style building, which was completed in 1889 to serve as the Supreme Court of British Columbia’s courthouse.

• A CMM will revitalize the Bastion Square area, where the empty building has languished and thus influenced the lack of interest in this historic area.


• A CMM will create 37 full-time and six part-time jobs and contract positions for graphic designers, digital and video producers, exhibit designers, exhibit fabricators, IT technicians janitorial and security services to the tune of $10 million annually by 2024.

• The project will increase cultural, arts and heritage related activities; increase the Museum’s educational role by serving school children locally, regionally and nationally as well as offering programs and activities for people of all ages and abilities.

• New exhibits and hands-on interactive displays will highlight the intertwined maritime history of Canada's Indigenous people and European settlers and our multi-coastal heritage and cultural characteristics. It will also showcase Canada's unique maritime science through new public outreach initiatives.

• The 35,000 artefacts, almost 40,000 photos, 30,000 ship plans, 500 pieces of art, three vessels of historic significance and a library of maritime-related books in MMBC’s collections were donated by, and are held on behalf of, the people of BC and Canada. It’s only fitting they should be available to the national public.

As MMBC’s Executive Director David Leverton put it, "This project has the potential to be a major economic and educational win-win for all citizens of the Greater Victoria Region and British Columbia along with fellow Canadians who will have the opportunity to learn more about Canada's amazing multi-coastal maritime heritage, science and culture.”

Contact:

Marianne Scott, marine writer
☎ 250-598-7744
fax 250-598-7799
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