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Letters Nov. 9: More thoughts on the remaking of the Royal B.C. Museum

A sampling of the dozens of letters we've received about the Royal B.C. Museum
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VICTORIA, B.C.: November 3, 2021 A photo about the renovations about to occur to the 3rd floor of the Royal BC Musem, 2022 in Victoria, November 3, 2021. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

We have received dozens of letters about the plans to remake the third floor of the Royal B.C. Museum to make it more inclusive. Here is a sample.

I commend the Royal B.C. Museum leadership for their courageous and careful decisions with respect to the revisions to the human history exhibits.

Not only have they identified significant problems with the current exhibits, but they have resisted the temptation to rush in with ready-made alternatives. They have also committed to consult and learn about how to build the replacement.

This is not to say that I would support the wholesale discarding of the current exhibits. I too enjoy waiting in the train station with my grandchildren for the train to come. Where is that train going next?

What can we learn from this process so far? I find myself reflecting on how place names have such an incredibly significant influence on how we understand the place we occupy today.

What does British Columbia tell us? Vancouver Island? Victoria? What about our town square: Centennial Square? How would calling it Millennial Square (for example) to shift our understanding and subsequent actions?

Given the multitude of thoughtful comments and letters on the subject appearing in the Saturday edition, perhaps the museum leadership has accomplished something already.

Peter Hamilton
View Royal

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I can attest to the impact the Royal B.C. Museum can have on young people.

My parents took us there nearly every weekend when admission was free, and those hours made the most impactful, earliest memories I have about old Victoria, and First Nations.

The Haida art, recorded voices and the replica gathering space are etched in my memory. Same with the cobblestone street, telegraph clicks and silent movie theatre of Old Town.

Eventually I learned about smallpox blankets, residential schools and reservations, no thanks to the school curriculum but giving full credit to a handful of honest, progressive teachers.

Accepting we need to change the representation of local history, I feel the museum has a big role to fill toward reconciliation. Here’s a golden opportunity to use this jewel of a public space to further our collective understanding.

I hope the planners take the time to get this right, inclusive of all available input and with ample public funds. When it’s ready, it should be free to visit and a required experience for elementary students.

Steve Ireland
Denman Island

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As an award-winning travel journalist, I have highlighted the Royal B.C. Museum in stories published by Frommer’s, Canada.com, Hilton and the Alberta Motor Association.

To update, recontextualize, and overhaul the First Peoples galleries is important and has definite merit. To unilaterally eliminate the Old Town — a unique, immersive, signature Victoria attraction — would in my opinion be a major mistake.

What will the end product look like? Without transparency and public consultation about the museum’s redevelopment plans, this is unlikely to benefit all stakeholders or increase visitorship.

Lucas Aykroyd
Vancouver

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Whenever we receive out-of-town visitors, we tell them not to miss the museum’s First Peoples’ Gallery and the Old Town exhibit. They never fail to be delighted by the immersive experience in Old Town, and are awed by the pieces they see in the First Peoples’ Gallery.

These are parts of the museum I visit many times a year. They are treasures. If there are incomplete, let’s expand them to create a broader picture, but please leave them for everyone to learn from, and to enjoy.

Donna Neve
Victoria

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I wonder if the Royal B.C. Museum is missing out on an opportunity to educate the public. Instead of shutting down the third floor, why not engage with First Nations to identify aspects of the existing displays that ‘showcase’ colonialism and create learning tours or resources to help visitors understand the issues?

This may better position them to work with First Nations and settlers to reshape our museum into a more representative exhibit of our history.

Erica Kjekstad
Saanich

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Of all the ridiculous leftist, woke elite profanities, this has got to be the most ludicrous.

“Decolonizing” Old Town in the name of furthering reconciliation is a gormless, virtue-signalling effort at appeasement that attempts to deny history, insults the men and women of all races that built modern B.C. and does nothing to advance relations with Indigenous communities.

The inside of the museum is a microcosm of natural and human historical events that chronicle the changes, advancements and, yes, the affronts to the culture of Indigenous communities, but it is our history and deserves to be remembered.

Changes to exhibits like this are symbolic at best. Once one steps outside, the reality of our little corner of the world is where the real work lies.

Old Town is a charming display and a major draw at the museum.

If the elite so-called progressives who run it want to dabble in appeasement and the shaming of colonists, then go ahead and indulge in that narrative, but maybe, just maybe they should concentrate on doing a better job of telling the story of “First Peoples” and leave the historical account of the arrival of Europeans and other nationals from around the world alone.

If this was a private museum I’d say do whatever you want, but since the public foots the bill, I’d say consult broadly and pay heed to the public’s wishes. Announcing the destruction of Old Town as a done deal is an insulting, reprehensible affront to the taxpayers of B.C. and is an unforgiveable mistake.

A.F. Carlson
Saanich

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The human settlement of British Columbia deserves a thoughtful and contextual presentation, which is something that is lacking on the third floor of the Royal B.C. Museum at present.

However, the news that the Old Town was to be stripped out of the dialogue and removed as a display was gut-wrenching to me. With this decision, the museum board fails to understand that the Old Town itself is part of the collective history of B.C.

The Old Town display is remembered fondly by almost every visitor I’ve ever spoken to and it is one of my earliest memories growing up in Victoria.

When my wife and I decided to return and raise our own family here, we became museum members so that our young children could enjoy it as well — indeed, it’s still the first place they run to whenever we go.

I’m sure they grow tired of listening to my stories of standing by the kitchen in the Grand Hotel as a young boy staring at the window, listening to the horses on the cobblestone street outside and smelling the spices that reminded me of Christmas baking at home.

Now that my children are older, I had always expected to take my grandchildren there one day and tell them the same stories.

I would urge the board to reconsider this decision and find a way to keep the beloved Old Town display as part of the larger story of B.C.’s history.

Scott Tinis
Victoria

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I visited the Royal B.C. Museum when I came over from the United Kingdom for my daughter’s wedding in 1979.

The Old Town display stayed in my memory as an outstanding work of art with realism experienced in the very limited space available.

I believe its destruction would be a sad mistake.

Ian Robinson
Mill Bay

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If the Royal B.C. Museum is considering decolonization of the museum, I wish they would be consistent and remove other hurtful signs of colonization such as the heating system, the electrical system, the concrete, rebar and glass.

A.L. Maki
Victoria

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The Royal B.C. Museum is a valuable part of this province’s historical and cultural heritage. It has an excellent reputation, and it has long been one of the main attractions for those who visit our city.

Accordingly, it would be very helpful if the public were consulted about any changes so drastic as what are now being proposed.

We’ve been told in the vaguest of terms that there had been a culture of insensitivity and racism toward Indigenous people at this museum, and it is for that reason the decision was made to “decolonize” the museum.

This process apparently extends to even getting rid of Old Town and the replica of Capt. George Vancouver’s ship Discovery.

As a volunteer at the museum for several months, I was impressed by comments visitors made about the excellent display of information on the third floor, much of which is dedicated to this province’s Indigenous culture and history — including the sad account of how the ravages of smallpox reduced their population in the 1860s.

I noted the museum’s laudatory policy of allowing free-of-charge entry to all Indigenous persons.

I’m sure there must be a large number of people who are baffled as to how eliminating also the excellent displays of what life was like for this province’s non-Indigenous population a hundred years ago is going to promote any kind of honest address to the museum’s alleged racism.

The RBCM’s decision to do what it thinks necessary to eliminate that should solicit more input from the citizens of this province. It’s their taxes and patronage that have always supported it.

Barry Gaetz
Victoria

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I think that the Old Town at the Royal B.C. Museum should be preserved and designated a National Heritage Site.

It has been there for more than 50 years, and generations of visitors have memories of it.

But, like the sound of the train station’s telegraph machine (which I had forgotten about), the wonderful details will sadly be lost to us if it is removed.

Please save Old Town!

Elizabeth Beck
Victoria

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I would like to add my voice against removing historical artifacts from the third floor of the Royal B.C. Museum.

My great-grandfather, Samuel Barclay Martin, and his cousin, Marshall English, started the first fishing cannery on the Fraser River, the Phoenix Cannery.

They were both men of their times, not perfect; however, they contributed to the prosperity of all British Columbians and should be recognized as such along with others from B.C. history.

Bruce Dayman
Victoria

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I want to thank Geoff Russ for his timely and articulate commentary, which addressed my discomfort with the somewhat vague statement and intent of our precious Royal B.C. Museum.

Our province has a long and varied history, some good and some of which we are not proud. It seems we are on the slippery slope of attempting to erase our history rather than explain it, complete with the detail of the good and not good.

Along with others in our province, we have been long time proud supporters of the museum. Sadly, we shall be taking at least a temporary break.

Tony Southwell
Saanich

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Instead of revamping the museum that so many enjoy, what we really need is a new Museum of Indigenous Culture.

How about a few acres of land in Saanich being devoted to a re-creation of houses as they were built by the various Indigenous cultures on Vancouver Island, before Europeans came.

This could include a recreation of the farming practised then such as for camas bulb cultivation and clam beds.

When I was in Tanzania in the 1970s, there was such a museum near Dar Es Salaam with typical house styles from various parts of the country recreated. It was very interesting and educational.

Such a development in Saanich would cost a few million but would easily be paid for by increased tourism. Let’s not destroy one attraction just to create another, as has been proposed for the present museum.

Saanich would be a particularly good site since it is an Aboriginal name, unlike the “Royal British Columbia Museum.”

Bruce Pendergast
Saanich

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Some people have raised the issue of the word “Royal” in the name of the Royal British Columbia Museum.

Let’s just cut to the chase, and rename it “The Zone One Hall of Wokeness and Cancel Culture” (City of Victoria is too colonial, so the city will be renamed Zone One).

Next, remove the entire contents of the building, and send the contents for destruction. Following that, construct a large memory hole in the otherwise empty hall, where people can toss family photos and the like.

Once the clutter of the past is out of the way, people can relax at home with a lifestyle magazine, and look in amazement at $1,000 down coats they could never afford, let alone use in Zone One.

Martha McNeely
Oak Bay

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So, the Royal British Columbia Museum is going to “decolonize” history because they see it as racist. History is history; history may be racist, but history is fact, with all its unpleasant warts.

History will not disappear simply by “de-historizing” it. We must be cognizant of our history so we can, hopefully, do a better job next time. To ignore it is to repeat it.

If we wish to recognize those who feel they were mistreated by history, that is an entirely different matter that can be addressed in an appropriate fashion. There is no end of events in history where people were mistreated.

The list is endless and covers the whole spectrum of our being on this planet. To ignore it does not change that fact.

It simply speaks to human nature, which is not always pleasant.

George Wildman
Saanich

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While raising my young daughter and son in James Bay as a single dad in the 1990s, the Royal B.C. Museum was one of our main go-to places, especially in the winter.

We were very sad to read about of the closing of the Old Town, which is still a fondly remembered play place.

Today, both my adult children said: “Dad, the other half of the same floor is dedicated to First Nations exhibits, why do they need to close the Old Town section?”

I wonder the same thing. Maybe they will also close Miniature World because it’s too small. And then the Bug Zoo because it bugs people.

With respect to my fellow Canadians, the one-eighth of me that is Cree is not impressed.

Barry, Shelby and Solomon Andruschak
Saanich

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