Public consultation restarts on Royal BC Museum's future

Feb 1 2023, 10:58 pm

Following last year’s controversy over the cost to build a new replacement and expanded Royal BC Museum, the provincial government has restarted public consultation on the future of the attraction based in downtown Victoria.

A new online survey gauges input on public interest in the museum’s exhibits and programming, early considerations for planning, and how the public should be consulted on the future of the museum.

This follows the public outcry in 2022, when the provincial government suddenly announced it would proceed with an $800-million plan to demolish the existing museum at the edge of Victoria Inner Harbour and build a brand new purpose-built, world-class museum complex.

Other than a 2019 public consultation on the broad concept of “modernization,” there was zero engagement in taking the museum renewal towards the big leap of closing a cherished provincial institution and building new facilities and exhibits from scratch.

In response to the backlash, only about a month later after the project’s announcement, then-Premier John Horgan put the project on hold in June 2022 and promised new public consultation before setting foot on any further investments.

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Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria (Google Earth)

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

The museum, which is owned by the provincial government and operated as a crown corporation, has long stated that it is in need of modernized facilities. The existing 1968-built museum is severely seismically vulnerable, and its basement levels — the storage of the museum’s vast collections — are at risk for flooding.

The museum’s modernization plan included building a secondary satellite facility for the new home of its collections, located in the Victoria area suburban city of Colwood. The $224 million cost of building the secondary facility pushes the entire modernization project cost to over $1 billion.

The previous plan to replace the main museum building in downtown Victoria also meant Vancouver Island would be without one of its largest tourist attractions for eight years due to the lengthy timeframe required to remove and store away the collections, demolish the existing building, and construct the new building. Based on the previous timeline, the museum would have closed in September 2022 and reopened in 2030.

Both the museum and the provincial government also faced significant criticism for closing and gutting its vast European settler galleries in early 2022. These galleries were the most popular permanent exhibits of the museum, and the removal is expected to have an impact on attendance numbers.

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The existing Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria. (Royal BC Museum)

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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