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Long closure of Royal B.C. Museum puts pressure on smaller museums, galleries

Maritime Museum of B.C. wants to move into CPR Steamship Terminal Building at Inner Harbour
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The Maritime Museum of British Columbia is currently housed in three ­storefront spaces at the Victoria Conference Centre on Douglas Street, but is keen to move into the CPR Steamship Terminal building on the Inner Harbour. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The pending eight-year closure of the Royal B.C. Museum represents a huge opportunity for smaller galleries and museums, and could underscore the need for a waterfront home for the Maritime Museum of B.C., says Jamie Webb, president of the Maritime Museum’s board of directors.

“There’s a real opportunity for the smaller institutions, like the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and Maritime Museum and others, to up their game,” Webb said. “And hopefully the government will realize there’s a burden that’s going to kind of be put on us and provide a little bit of assistance.”

The Royal B.C. Museum is expected to close in September. It will be torn down and replaced with a new $789 million facility that is set to be completed in 2030.

Webb said the replacement of the museum is great news for Victoria and the entire cultural sector. “Victoria has lost a ton of attractions in the last 25-30 years, and we haven’t really replaced them with a lot,” he said.

“I guess the flip side of that is it means all the little ­institutions, the galleries and the small museums like us, are going to have to shoulder a lot of weight for the next almost 10 years.”

Webb said the Royal B.C. Museum’s pending closure underlines the need for the Maritime Museum to move into the CPR Steamship Terminal building on the Inner Harbour, something the province can help make happen.

The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has been considering options for the CPR Steamship Terminal building since the provincial government took control of it last fall.

Webb said the Maritime Museum has had several ­meetings with the ministry about the prospect of moving into the building. “We need to be on the water. We have a ­collection that includes historic boats, we run the classic boat festival and Victoria gets visits by tall ships and all kinds of things, so there’s clearly some waterfront synergy.”

The Maritime Museum has tried to get into the CPR Steamship Terminal building for years. The last time was in 2015, shortly after the museum closed its doors in Bastion Square due to safety concerns in what was then a 126-year-old building. But after months of meetings, negotiations with the then building landlord, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, hit an impasse. At the time, the provincial government, which was helping in ­negotiations, said the rent was more than the museum society could afford. Instead, the museum moved into 3,000 square feet in the Nootka Court building on ­Humboldt Street in 2015. This year, it moved to three ­storefront spaces at the Victoria Conference Centre on Douglas Street.

Webb said the museum’s lease with the City of Victoria is flexible, and if talks with the province go well, the end of its first lease might dovetail with a chance to move to the ­waterfront.

aduffy@timescolonist.com