Expo 86 McBarge to become deep-sea museum in Vancouver


VANCOUVER — The famous floating McBarge from Expo 86 has finally found a permanent home, as a deep-sea museum in Vancouver. 

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The Deep Discovery Centre, which will celebrate the history of Pacific Ocean exploration and conservation, is under development by Howard Meakin, owner of the 57-metre-long barge, and Phil Nuytten, president of the Historical Diving Society of Canada and curator of the new centre.

Meakin and Nuytten, who have been working together on the project for more than a year, said they are keeping the location of the museum a secret for now, but confirmed it will be in Vancouver. There had been speculation that the barge could end up in Nanaimo or Victoria.

Details about the new centre will be announced at an event on Oct. 21 in Maple Ridge. Attendees at the event will be able to take a tour of the refurbished McBarge and learn about the Deep Discovery Centre and a planned crowdfunding campaign to help make it happen.

“We completely gutted the barge,” said Meakin on Friday, adding it is now about 90 tonnes lighter and sits 15 centimetres higher in the water. The museum will be spread over 15,400 square feet, plus a 4,000-square-foot rooftop, and will feature submersibles, deep-sea artifacts and a movie theatre.

Nuytten, an entrepreneur and inventor of undersea diving equipment, said he is excited the project has come together.

He said the museum will be the first of its kind in Canada.

“We really want to showcase Canadian companies. I don’t think most people realize how important the Canadian contribution has been,” he said, adding that at least half a dozen firms have made significant technological contributions to undersea exploration.

He has amassed a huge collection for the museum, including 11 submersibles, vintage scuba gear and hundreds of artifacts, some dating to the 1940s.

In addition to showcasing Canadian inventions, Meakin said the museum will also focus on the Pacific Ocean and conservation efforts.

“Plastics in the ocean is a huge problem,” he said. “The Pacific is the lungs of the earth. We need to be the stewards of that ocean. It provides food, energy and water, and we need to do a much better job of protecting it.”

Although it’s too soon to announce an opening date, Nuytten said it will be a “star attraction for Vancouver.”

If the crowdfunding campaign is successful, the museum will also offer visitors submersible rides more than 200 metres under the ocean.

The McBarge was built for Expo 86 in Vancouver and used as a floating McDonald’s restaurant.

The last of its kind, it then went unused for more than three decades. The derelict vessel has been anchored off Burnaby and, more recently, Maple Ridge. Meakin had once planned to turn it into a floating restaurant/pub in Mission.

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