Comment: Wharf Street project could house Maritime Museum

A commentary by a former collections and exhibitions manager at the Maritime Museum of B.C.

There have been a number of letters lately concerning the HBC Wharf Street warehouses, often referred to as Northern Junk.

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Unfortunately, the pejorative connotations inherent in the word “junk” have led many people to think of the buildings as being worthless rather than being the cradle of the new and growing city of Victoria.

A number of letters have expressed the idea that the Wharf Street warehouses become the site of a purpose-built Maritime Museum. I very much support this idea.

While visiting our son and his wife in New Zealand a couple of years ago, we had a chance to go to the New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland.

The collections are housed in a wonderful new multi-level structure, most of which is built on concrete pilings out over the harbour.

The exhibits tell the story of ocean voyaging beginning with the arrival of the first migratory arrival of Polynesian people in Aotearoa some 1,000 years ago. The story of these first settlers is anchored by the massive ocean-going canoe, Te Waka.

Besides the stories of Polynesian and Maori vessels and navigation, there are galleries that tell of the European voyages of discovery, early coastal trading, whaling and sealing, navigation and marine surveying, maritime art, arts and crafts and so much more.

Being built out over the water, the museum has its own dock that is home to a number of heritage vessels, some of which are used to take the paying public on short excursions around the harbour.

What I envision for the new Maritime Museum of the Pacific is a three-storey building with a raised single-storey structure along the ridge line in the harbour warehouse style of the late 19th century.

The physical footprint would be that of the Point Hope Shipyard, with simple board-and-batten siding painted grey to provide an unobtrusive neutral background to the featured HBC warehouses.

The roofing of the structure would be clad in solar-cell cladding to offset the cost of power.

A number of years ago, the Maritime Museum of B.C. had informal conversations with the Sail and Life Training Society about a joint venture.

So another thing I would propose would be another “boat shed”-like structure built opposite Reeson Park. This structure would be in the same style as the museum and have a long heritage wharf running from the museum south for SALTS vessels and visiting tall ships.

From time to time a floating drydock might be engaged for building larger vessels or the repair of existing heritage vessels. Construction of the Endeavour replica in 1988 drew many visitors to Fremantle, West Australia.

The larger of the two HBC warehouses would be occupied by a museum restaurant on the main floor with a ships chandlery on the wharf level. The smaller building would house SALTS offices and sundries.

The Warehouse Precinct would take visitors back to the days of sail and steam when the only connection between communities was by water.

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