Beloved "Old Town" gallery to reopen at Royal BC Museum

May 9 2023, 8:15 pm

In a stunning about-turn, and following a public outcry over its closure, the longtime Old Town gallery at the Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria will reopen to visitors starting later this summer.

The crown corporation states Old Town, which originally “permanently closed” in early January 2022, will be returning to the third level of the museum.

Although it has been closed for the past year and a half, the gallery is still largely intact, but there will be some changes to address some of the previously identified concerns, specifically that the gallery contained problematic exhibits in the way it features the province’s early European settlement history. In late 2021, the museum leadership said the exhibit’s permanent closure and removal was part of its process of “decolonization.”

The reopened Old Town on July 29, 2023, will include spaces such as the garage, train station, hotel, saloon, parlour, kitchen, print shop, and Chinatown.

It is noted that some spaces, such as the drapery shop, have been “emptied” to reimagine the storefront with a new perspective. As well, the Majestic Theatre will not feature its Hollywood silent film rotation, and instead, will feature historical footage showcasing BC’s diversity.

Royal BC Museum Chinatown

A walk-through depiction of a historic Chinatown at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. (Royal BC Museum)

There will also be new contextual panels throughout the gallery to provide background and historical reference.

“We look forward to welcoming visitors back into Old Town with this new approach,” said Alicia Dubois, CEO of Royal BC Museum. “We’re committed to increasing inclusivity and accessibility to the museum through extensive engagement and co-creation of exhibits with communities, and inviting people back into this space allows further opportunities to do that.”

However, at least for the time being, some areas of the third floor will not be accessible to visitors, including the Becoming BC Gallery, which features Captain George Vancouver’s Discovery ship, the gold mine, the farm, and the cannery. The First Peoples’ Gallery is also closed as a space to host engagement sessions with Indigenous communities.

The area that previously had the Century Hall and Our Living Languages exhibits will be used to host the upcoming temporary SUE: The T. rex Experience, which opens on June 16, 2023.

The third-floor galleries were by far the most popular and highly reviewed attractions of the provincial museum.

“Old Town is beloved by hundreds of thousands of visitors. I know people miss it, are passionate about it and want access to it,” said Lana Popham, who has been the BC minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport since Fall 2022. “We have heard you. The reopening of Old Town is exciting news for many who have fond memories of previous visits there, and for visitors who will experience it for the first time.”

Old Town’s reopening is now considered the first phase of a multi-year project to transform the museum, with each phase paired with a round of public consultation.

The closure of the third-floor galleries was originally part of the provincial government’s now-cancelled plans to completely demolish the 1968-built museum complex — which has been identified as a major risk for damage from earthquakes and flooding, along with aging building systems — and build a new modern world-class museum building at a cost of $800 million.

royal bc museum victoria concept new

Cancelled concept of the new Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria; not the actual design. (Government of BC)

Prior to the June 2022 decision to cancel the project, the existing museum was on track to close in September 2022 and reopen in 2030, when the new building is scheduled to reach completion.

Earlier in 2023, the provincial government performed its first public consultation on the future of the museum following the cancellation of the redevelopment in downtown Victoria.

However, the plans to build the Royal BC Museum’s new satellite facility in the Victoria area suburb of Colwood are continuing, which will provide new storage, collections, and research space — a relocation of the museum’s vast locations currently stored in the basement of the existing building at Victoria Inner Harbour, which is at risk for flooding. Construction on the 164,000 sq ft satellite building at a cost of $270 million will begin in Summer 2023 for a public opening in Summer 2026.

royal bc museum colwood collections research building

Artistic rendering of the Royal BC Museum’s collections and research building in Colwood. (Michael Green Architecture/Maple Reinders Constructors/Royal BC Museum)

royal bc museum colwood collections research building

Artistic rendering of the Royal BC Museum’s collections and research building in Colwood. (Michael Green Architecture/Maple Reinders Constructors/Royal BC Museum)

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