Two weeks ago, the provincial government shut down negotiations between the B.C. Maritime Museum (the custodian of the Dorothy) and other parties to secure a new space for the Museum, leaving the venerable institution essentially homeless as of Sept 30th this year. The news release from the government is terse and only hints at the larger story:
“Nine months of negotiation between Shared Services BC and the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) to secure a lease for the Maritime Museum of BC in Victoria’s old steamship terminal are at an impasse. As a result, Shared Services BC has informed both the museum and the GVHA today that it is not able to provide any ongoing financial support or fund capital improvements at the steamship terminal. The ministry has also asked the museum to vacate 28 Bastion Square by Sept. 30, 2015, to avoid risk to staff and to assess the state of the building, which is in disrepair.” Read the full release here.
Today, the Museum trustees are calling the B.C. government’s bluff. They say that when the City of Victoria signed over the historic Bastion Square location to house the MMBC in 1977, “That agreement came with ‘the obligation to house the museum in perpetuity — either in the courthouse or another mutually agreeable location,’ trustees said in a statement. The agreement was signed by then Victoria mayor Mike Young and provincial secretary Grace McCarthy, according to stories published in the Victoria Daily Times. – See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/b-c-should-honour-1977-maritime-museum-promise-trustees-1.1973910#sthash.PyproUEp.dpuf
Museum trustees will hold a news conference at some point today, “to lay out why they say the province has an obligation to find a mutually agreeable home for the museum as well as maintain 28 Bastion Square in public hands.”
The end of more than nine months of negotiations “essentially scuppers all of our additional fundraising efforts based around obtaining a successful long-term lease,” said museum board chairman Clay Evans.
Last year, the B.C. Maritime Museum – the custodian and owner of the Dorothy – was asked by its landlord (the provincial government) to leave its home on Bastion Square, a beautiful heritage building that had served since 1889 as Victoria’s first permanent courthouse, with its famous birdcage elevator, installed in 1899, still the oldest working lift of its kind in North America. The government claimed it was unsafe for the public and would be too costly to repair to make it earthquake-safe, but some suspect the forced move also had something to do with freeing up the space for higher-paying commercial tenants. Others, like Victoria Councillor Pam Madoff, say that moving the MMBC out of the historic building endangers the future of the building itself, since any business would have to go through costly renovations and a rezoning process:
Madoff said her biggest concern is the fate of the old building, which is owned by the provincial government. So far, a provincial official has said only that the building requires significant upgrades and a business case will have to be developed for any new use. – See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/maritime-museum-s-move-leaves-hole-in-bastion-square-1.1432273#sthash.wuuybMsX.dpuf
The Museum board had, in the process of negotiations, been led to believe that the government would be working with them to secure a new waterfront space. After shutting their doors to the public (and losing much-needed revenue) over the last 9 months, they worked in good faith to come to terms with the provincial government, Harbour authority and Shared Services to be able to move into a new space in the old CP Railway terminal, which would have been a perfect fit for a maritime institution: close to a tourist terminus, and including waterfront access, a very important consideration for our Dorothy. Here’s what plans for the new space looked like:
But, instead of investment and support, what they got was delays and dodging. Finally, after negotiations “reached an impasse” in bureaucrat-speak, we heard that the province had no such intentions of support or investment. Hear the response from the province’s minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens’ Services CBC On the island interview with Amrick Virk. The government claims it was simply asking too much to supply the $1 million to refurbish the new space.
Evans said the move, in the timeframe the government has determined, is impossible given the size of the collection. “It’s actually British Columbia’s collection, and the Society looks after it for the public.”
Museum consultant Tim Willis spoke out very strongly about the loss of a visible, high-profile location for B.C.’s Maritime Museum, saying that cities all over the world are doing the opposite of B.C.: investing in maritime museums, because they tell “a crucial part of our story, and they’re wonderful economic generators as well.” Willis says he is angered at the position the Museum has been placed in, and is very worried about the larger implications for Victoria and the province if it loses this space. Hear the full interview: https://soundcloud.com/cbcvictoria/museum-consultant-tim-willis-on-the-bc-maritime-museum
Like Willis, this is more than a passing concern for me. The provincial government’s failure to support a viable, prominent location for the more than 10,000 artifacts of maritime heritage on this coast makes me very angry. At present, the massive collection is being catalogued and moved for storage in another government-owned archival facility. (Note the use of the word “storage”, not “display”.) This move means more than the loss of a public storefront for visitors. It also means wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars because dismantling this museum and rehousing it in a much smaller facility is akin to taking apart a boat or a complicated engine: it takes no time to take apart, but about 1,000 times longer to put it back together again.
Also, there is the loss of community and shared knowledge: without a common location that gathers together the archival materials, research libraries, physical artifacts AND a display place for visitors to come learn about our history, you risk losing the dozens of volunteers who currently come to contribute their shared knowledge that makes up a rich body of cultural understanding. Without a place to come to, to research, to cross-link stories and artifacts, you will lose not only the past, but the present remembered collection, as well.
And third, we are losing focus and vision as a province. If the MMBC is forced to come up with its own funds to get a small storefront space, with the majority of its collection “out of sight, out of mind”, what does that say about the priorities of this province? Does B.C. even recognize that we are a maritime province, built by boats and waterways, and that this maritime heritage is a valuable economic and cultural resource that should be invested in, rather than hidden away?
Personally, I’m appalled at how this entire process has devolved. I’m even more discouraged than ever at our government’s lack of foresight, vision, and its misguided priorities. And professionally, as a documentary filmmaker, I’m going to keep a close eye on whether this government will continue to shutter our province’s maritime and cultural assets, rather than promoting them to the world, and what that means for the future of our Dorothy.