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Maritime Museum envisions national status, return to Bastion Square

After three years in exile, the Maritime Museum of B.C. wants to come home.

After three years in exile, the Maritime Museum of B.C. wants to come home.

The museum, which in 2015 left the home it knew for 50 years at 28 Bastion Square, has proposed a $45-million plan that would see it move back and establish itself as a national maritime museum.

“This project has the potential to be a major economic and educational win-win for all of the citizens of the Greater Victoria region and B.C.,” said museum executive director David Leverton.

The plan, which calls for the renovation and reimagining of the existing heritage building in Bastion Square, includes construction of an annex and off-site storage to the northwest of the building

“We believe that given a national opportunity we could do something important,” Leverton said.

He said they looked at other sites near Victoria Harbour, but found challenges at each one.

“So we looked back at Bastion Square, and realized if we didn’t have to put all of the artifacts back in and could reorient the building and make the kinds of changes that could accommodate the arts and culture community, then it would be a very different museum than the one that left here.”

A rendering of the proposed development of 28 Bastion Square. - Chris Gower

Accommodating the arts community is a nod to a proposal to turn the building into a shared community arts space with workshops, studios, exhibits and performances.

That idea was unveiled in January 2018 and appears to have support from the City of Victoria.

Leverton said the museum also supported the idea of an arts hub at the time. “We thought it was a great concept. At the end of the day it’s about what’s the best use of the building and sitting vacant is the worst use of it.”

He said he sees the chance for both the museum and arts community to work under the same umbrella.

The reimagined 28 Bastion Square location would reconfigure the first floor and half of the second floor for arts and cultural programming, including performance space and exhibition rooms.

If they can persuade the federal government to consider the Maritime Museum of B.C. as a national institution — becoming the Canadian Maritime Museum — it would be able to access both capital funding and operating money.

Leverton said the museum intends to build a strong partnership with the Songhees First Nation, which has ties to the location. “The Bastion Square courthouse is in the heart of our traditional territory and carries a sad history with our people. It would be transformative to collaborate on something new, sharing our cultures, telling the easy and the hard stories together and celebrating all that we love about the sea,” said Songhees Chief Ron Sam.

Leverton said time is ticking on the project as they would like to be in place in the old building by July 20, 2021 — the 150th anniversary of B.C.’s entry into confederation.

But that would require swift action as the province has noted 28 Bastion Square needs significant renovation and seismic upgrading before new occupants can move in.

The Maritime Museum was forced out of the Bastion Square building after it was deemed to be in an unsafe condition. It currently operates from 3,000 square feet at 634 Humboldt Street.

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