The British Columbia Maritime Museum has had a tough time navigating the waters of real estate and government grants, but it’s not discouraged.
In fact, the organization is setting course for a much larger, much newer location – and seeking recognition as a national museum.
“Currently there are no national museums west of Winnipeg, so we think this would be a wonderful contribution to the Canadian museum fabric and the national fabric of museums by having something here in Victoria,” said executive director David Leverton.
The B.C. Maritime Museum, currently housed at 634 Humboldt St., was situated in the iconic 1889 courthouse building at 28 Bastion Sq. for 50 years. The historic facility allotted the museum 25,000 square feet of space, which Leverton said was useful, but a bit of a strange configuration.
The building began to reveal its age and the Maritime Museum moved out in 2015 at the suggestion of the province, which owns the structure. Bids are being accepted for a repurposing of the building, but it requires upwards of $12 million worth of renovations and seismic upgrades.
The Maritime Museum downsized to a location at Nootka Court that is less than 3,000 sq. ft.
“It’s very challenging in terms of doing meaningful displays,” Leverton admitted. “At the Bastion Square location we could have a lot of different objects out at any given time, because we had a lot more space to work with.”
The museum has been forced to get creative with its displays and outreach programs to share its collection, but Leverton said they’re still worried about their artifacts in storage.
At Bastion Square it was possible to store undisplayed items on site. Now, much of the collection is kept in a 10,000-sq.-ft. storage locker provided by the province, while some vessels are kept at Ogden Point.
|The previous Maritime Museum in Bastion Square was originally a courthouse. This photo is dated 1895 (FILE CONTRIBUTED).|
“The current problem we have there is … [it’s] not environmentally controlled at all,” Leverton said. “So it’s really subject to temperature variation, humidity variation and we’d very much like to, from a collections management perspective, get that into proper storage.”
Over the years the Maritime Museum has collected over 35,000 artifacts representing nautical history from B.C. and across Canada, as well as over 9,000 books and thousands of photographs and pieces of art. It’s an unparalleled collection that Leverton believes deserves a new and purpose-built space with a national title.
The museum has set a target goal to find a new location of 2021, in time to mark the 150th anniversary of B.C. joining confederation.
|The Maritime Museum when it was situated in Bastion Square, circa the 1990s. (FILE CONTRIBUTED)|
“We’re taking this year to really identify as many potential locations as possible, and then at the end of the year really sit down and evaluate which one is preferred,” Leverton said.
They will need to apply for grants through the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund and others, he added, but to be eligible they need a defined location.
As such, the museum is working closely with the provincial and federal governments to find the perfect spot. While there’s no site pinpointed yet, Leverton said they desire a central location for display purposes, as well as to have protected off-site storage for artifacts.
He also mentioned the dream goal:
“We want to be on the waterfront, if at all possible. We’re a maritime museum [with] a few vessels and we’d like to see those actually out on the water and to use them again.”