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Editorial: Our museum is national treasure

The Royal B.C.
Royal B.C. Museum in downtown Victoria.

The Royal B.C. Museum has big plans, and is gearing up for a $10-million renovation that would allow the museum to showcase some of the hundreds of Emily Carr works it has in storage, refurbish its 1970s-era First Peoples Gallery and create a new Pacific Worlds Gallery and learning centre.

We are delighted with the museum’s plan and are keen on provincial-government support, because funding has been frozen for far too long. We hope the federal government will recognize that our museum is more that just a provincial treasure, it’s a national one.

Besides, this is a great project for Canada’s 150th anniversary, and it would help make real the commitment to truth and reconciliation.

The proposed changes recognize that a museum is not a dusty warehouse of history, not merely a place to store artifacts, but a living, breathing entity that allows us to explore and interpret the past so that we might more fully understand the present and better prepare for the future.

Especially important are plans to remake the First Peoples Gallery. Our perception of the past couple of centuries has changed dramatically since the museum was built, and it is time for our museum exhibits to become more inclusive and less colonial, more respectful and less “us and them.”

It is important for all to realize that First Nations are part of our collective history, and their stories are not merely someone else’s history.

The Emily Carr focus gives important recognition to a woman who blazed a personal and artistic trail at a time when women were pushed to the periphery. She should have been recognized as a seminal figure like Lawren Harris or other members of the Group of Seven. She was considered an associate of the group of landscape artists, but was never a full member.

It will be great to get all of those hidden Carr treasures — more than 1,100 are in the museum’s collection — into the public eye.

Let us hope that there will be great co-operation between the museum and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria on this project. The two institutions should work together to celebrate Carr’s life and work.

The Royal B.C. Museum is not just a cultural treasure; it’s Victoria’s top attraction, according to TripAdvisor, and a brilliant educational resource that helps to strengthen and inspire other museums throughout the province.

In changing the focus and flavour of its exhibits, the museum might be accused of rewriting history. If so, it should plead guilty — with much gusto. History needs constant rewriting as we dig deeper into the past, uncover hitherto unknown facts and strengthen our understanding.

Too much of our history has been told from a narrow, Eurocentric, male-dominated perspective; it needs to be retold from a perspective that is broader, yet at the same time more inclusive. The museum is well on track to broadening that view.

The changes being made at the Royal B.C. Museum will provide a taste of what is possible. We strongly support CEO Jack Lohman’s master plan to rebuild the museum and archives precinct, and give the area a much stronger presence — including an entry point that will be tied more closely to the pivotal corner of Government and Belleville streets.

It would be fitting to get a commitment to have the project completed before our next major sesquicentennial in 2021, when we commemorate B.C.’s joining of the Canadian Confederation.

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