Royal BC Museum to remove settler galleries to begin process of decolonization

Nov 4 2021, 8:23 pm

Decades-old permanent exhibits at the Royal BC Museum in downtown Victoria will be removed next year to begin a decolonization process.

The crown corporation announced Wednesday that sections of the museum’s major third floor will begin closing later this month, before the entire floor is closed starting on January 2, 202. This includes the First Peoples gallery, Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in BC exhibition, and Becoming BC gallery.

The phased closure allows British Columbians to plan a visit to the exhibits as they were originally built.

The closure targets “settler” exhibits that highlight early European influences, leading to the formation of the colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, and eventually the unification as a province under Canadian federation.

The third floor houses some of the Royal BC Museum’s most popular exhibits, including Captain George Vancouver’s Discovery ship, and replicas of an old town, and the logging and fishery industries. These exhibits will be permanently removed.

royal bc museum third floor exhibits removal

Exhibits on the third floor of Royal BC Museum that will be removed for decolonization. (Royal BC Museum)

royal bc museum third floor exhibits removal

Exhibits on the third floor of Royal BC Museum that will be removed for decolonization. (Royal BC Museum)

royal bc museum third floor exhibits removal

Exhibits on the third floor of Royal BC Museum that will be removed for decolonization. (Royal BC Museum)

“Decolonization of the museum’s galleries is important and long overdue,” said Royal BC Museum acting CEO Daniel Muzyka in a statement.

“As part of our work to implement modernized museum practices, in particular our efforts around decolonization, we will be closing the third-floor so we can decant our galleries. This is necessary to begin the long-term work of creating new narratives that include under-represented voices and reflect the lived experiences and contemporary stories of the people in BC.”

Throughout the decolonization process, the exhibits on the main and second levels and the IMAX theatre will remain open.

The museum will also continue to engage with visitors and tourists through webinars, online learning, and virtual tours, and it will also expand its provincial travelling exhibition and pop-up exhibit programs, including installations in the Victoria area.

“Our government’s commitment to truth and reconciliation demands that we diversify and decolonize the way we share the history of BC,” said Melanie Mark, the BC Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport.

“For too long, museums have been colonial institutions that exclude others from telling their own stories. We have an opportunity to turn the museum inside out, and it starts here, now, on the museum’s third floor.”

royal bc museum third floor exhibits removal

Exhibits on the third floor of Royal BC Museum that will be removed for decolonization. (Royal BC Museum)

royal bc museum third floor exhibits removal

Exhibits on the third floor of Royal BC Museum that will be removed for decolonization. (Royal BC Museum)

royal bc museum third floor exhibits removal

Exhibits on the third floor of Royal BC Museum that will be removed for decolonization. (Royal BC Museum)

royal bc museum third floor exhibits removal

Exhibits on the third floor of Royal BC Museum that will be removed for decolonization. (Royal BC Museum)

The provincial government is also in the process of planning a revitalization and expansion of the Royal BC Museum into a modern world-class educational and tourist attraction over the longer term.

The museum on five acres at the edge of Victoria Inner Harbour has not seen major changes or upgrades since it was built in 1967. The complex of buildings has a combined total floor area of about 250,000 sq ft, with 20% of the space as exhibition space, 70% as research and storage space, and 10% as lobby, administration, and gift shop space.

As part of the overhaul of the institution, the provincial government is funding a new satellite Royal BC Museum facility on an eight-acre site in the Royal Bay development in the Victoria region suburb of Colwood.

This new Colwood facility will have a floor area of 151,000 sq ft for the relocation of the archives, collections, and research developments currently located at the main museum facility. The relocation also allows the provincial government to pursue the redevelopment of the main museum.

Last month, the provincial government announced it was moving forward with the procurement process of selecting a contractor for designing and building the new Colwood facility. Three teams have been invited to submit a detailed bid. Construction is expected to begin in Summer 2020 for an opening in 2025.

The Royal BC Museum was previously named by Trip Advisor as the best museum in Canada. Each year, it sees about 400,000 visitors.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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