B.C. should honour 1977 Maritime Museum promise: trustees

The province should live up to its decades-old promise to house the Maritime Museum of B.C., the museum’s trustees say.

In 1977, the City of Victoria signed over the former courthouse at Bastion Square to the province for $1. The museum had relocated there in 1965.

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That agreement came with “the obligation to house the museum in perpetuity — either in the courthouse or another mutually agreeable location,” trustees said in a statement. The agreement was signed by then Victoria mayor Mike Young and provincial secretary Grace McCarthy, according to stories published in the Victoria Daily Times.

The museum, keeper of 10,000 artifacts about B.C.’s maritime history, was closed on Oct. 21 when the province told the non-profit organization to leave Bastion Square, citing safety concerns. The museum will be homeless after Sept. 30 when the province wants everything out of the building so that it can make significant repairs.

Negotiations to rent space in the Canadian Pacific Railway Steamship Terminal building on the Inner Harbour broke down three weeks ago after nine months of talks between the province and the landlord, Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

The end of negotiations “essentially scuppers all of our additional fundraising efforts based around obtaining a successful long-term lease,” said museum board chairman Clay Evans.

The organization had applied for $1.3 million in federal grants based on a lease in the CPR building. The historic building is owned by the province but managed by the harbour authority, which must pay millions of dollars in rent to the province over the next 20 years.

Meanwhile, the Maritime Museum of B.C. Society has found a 3,600-square-foot space near the Empress hotel, where it hopes to regroup in a storefront operation. The lease has not been signed, and Evans declined to give the address. Most artifacts will be stored in the former B.C. Systems Corp. building at 4000 Seymour Pl., owned by the province.

The museum receives $90,000 a year from the province in gaming money. In contrast, Nova Scotia provides $1.5 million annually and a six-storey waterfront building to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.

Evans said the province has indicated that proposed annual loans to the museum of about $90,000 for rent and $40,000 for tenant improvements over 10 years for the CPR building were “too rich.” Moreover, about $10,000 per month the province has provided in “bridge financing” for staff and packing artifacts will end Sept. 30.

The museum’s roots go back to 1955, when a naval museum was opened on Signal Hill, just outside HMC Dockyard in Esquimalt. In 1965, it moved to Bastion Square.

The trustees plan to hold a news conference today to lay out why they say the province has an obligation to find a mutually agreeable home for the museum as well as maintain 28 Bastion Square in public hands.

“Our aim is to find a suitable home for the collection here in Victoria and to keep the collection together, but ultimately we have to keep our eyes and ears open to all options,” Evans said.

kdedyna@timescolonist.com

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