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Museum reflects on 50 years of history

Jordan Jones, left, and Richard Slingerland put the finishing touches on the retail display at the Nanaimo Museum. The display is part of the museum’s new permanent gallery, which will be open to the public on Saturday (April 5).   - NICHOLAS PESCOD/The News Bulletin
Jordan Jones, left, and Richard Slingerland put the finishing touches on the retail display at the Nanaimo Museum. The display is part of the museum’s new permanent gallery, which will be open to the public on Saturday (April 5).
— image credit: NICHOLAS PESCOD/The News Bulletin

Over the course of five decades, the Nanaimo Museum Society and its members have dedicated time to preserving the history of the Harbour City.

On Saturday (April 5), the society will celebrate its 50th anniversary and is encouraging the public to mark the occasion by attending the museum’s new permanent exhibit, which features a large collection of artifacts and stories.

Debbie Trueman, general manager of the museum, has been involved with the society for more than 25 years and said the message has remained the same since the Nanaimo Museum Society was formed in 1964.

“It’s always been to preserve and interpret the artifacts of the community that tell the story of Nanaimo,” Trueman said. “We’ve always been a community history museum.”

The museum’s new permanent gallery documents the final series of stories that helped form Nanaimo’s development. According to Trueman, the new gallery features stories on heritage buildings and pays tribute to Nanaimo’s old Chinatown.

“The last Chinatown burned down in 1960. A lot of the artifacts that are on display would have been located in many of those buildings. In fact, the paintings that are on the wall were done by a group of students. A class of architecture students from UBC came and did drawings and that happened about two weeks before the fire. So those would have been the last images drawn of the Chinatown before we lost it.”

Those who remember the Lotus Hotel will be taken down memory lane when they wander through the new gallery.

“We have mounted a window from the Lotus Motel, which burned down in the 1960s. A lot of people will remember that and will have seen it and been familiar with the building it came from,” Trueman said.

One of the other features that visitors will appreciate is the retail section of the gallery.

“Ever since we have taken out the retail section from the old museum quite a few years ago people have missed it,” Trueman said. “Most museum have a lot of those kinds of artifacts and it is nice to be able to have those on display rather than in storage.”

Trueman said the new gallery will be open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is by donation.

“Come see the new exhibit and learn some of the history of Nanaimo,” she said.

Leading up to its 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday, the museum has been reaching out to the public for various items from 1964.

“Whenever we’ve done that in the past we’ve gotten huge response. Unfortunately this time we didn’t and I think it is kind of the same problem that we are facing. People aren’t thinking about saving things from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. They’re not looking at it as being old enough,” Trueman said. “People forget that the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, we have to start saving things from those years, too. It was a bit of a challenge because we didn’t get as much as we hoped for but we will continue to work on that. We will use this as an opportunity to continue that drive into collecting stuff from later years.”

Since forming in 1964, the society has achieved many things.

Two decades ago, the society took over the Nanaimo Bastion, which is the only wooden bastion in North America.

The biggest change for the Nanaimo Museum occurred in 2008 when it moved into the Vancouver Island Conference Centre from its former Cameron Road location. Since relocating, the museum has seen an increase in visitors.

“We’re downtown, we get walk-by traffic,” Trueman said. “We get people who find us without even looking, which is good because with the old location you really had to look for us.”

While the future remains bright for the museum, Trueman said the society is always trying to bring in new traveling exhibits, but it has become harder over the years.

“We like to bring in exhibits from traveling museums but so many exhibits have stopped doing that so it is hard to bring in feature exhibits,” she said.

The next exhibit at the Nanaimo Museum is called Discovering Departure Bay, which opens on April 8.

The exhibit showcases stories from the Departure Bay neighbourhood including its roots as a Snuneymuxw winter village, a haunted mansion built by the Dunsmuir family, crimes committed by visiting sailors and the installation of B.C.’s first telephone.

The museum is located in the VICC on Commercial Street, next to Serious Coffee. For more information, please visit www.nanaimomuseum.ca.

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