This is the last in a series of articles highlighting this year’s recipients of the City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Awards.
When Darrell Ohs became president of the Nanaimo Historical Society the organization was almost history itself.
“A lot of people thought we were doomed six years ago…” he said. “Enthusiasm was down, morale was down, membership was aging.”
It was around that time that other local historical groups like the Nanaimo Community Heritage Commission and the Nanaimo branch of the Archaeological Society of B.C. were folding, but Ohs and NHS secretary Gordon Miller “kept the throttle forward and the stick back” and, aided by the influx of members from those defunct groups, the NHS pulled through.
NHS executive member Christine Meutzner, also a 20-year member of the heritage commission and manager of the Nanaimo Community Archives, described it as a “dogged” effort.
“There was just the two of you and you just kept going and we kept on saying, ‘Oh, for God’s sakes, give it up,’ but they just kept on going,” she said.
On April 18 the NHS will receive the City of Nanaimo’s new Honour in Heritage award, which recognizes “individuals, groups and corporations who demonstrate outstanding support, advocacy, promotion or interpretation of Nanaimo’s heritage and history,” according to a city press release. Ohs said the honour is well deserved.
Moved by its lasting presence and impact, Meutzner nominated the NHS for the award on behalf of the archives.
“They survived for 66 years and they’re actually, I think, growing now. I have seen a turnaround,” she said. “So I thought they should get some kind of recognition just for sheer longevity and sort of stick-with-it-ness and also the fact that they have in fact contributed in very concrete ways.”
Since its founding in 1953, the NHS has spearheaded numerous initiatives aimed at preserving historical sites and promoting knowledge of local history.
Meutzner said the organization has had to adapt over time to stay relevant.
“In the ’70s they started bringing in First Nations speakers … they started bringing in more women to talk about their experience,” she said. “So they’ve had to reflect the bigger society as we go on. We couldn’t get away with doing only transportation history. We couldn’t just do coal.”
Meutzner said that among its “legacy” projects are the establishment of the Nanaimo Museum and Community Archives, as well as its monthly meetings and speakers series.
“Now at the end of each meeting almost invariably somebody joins, I have noticed, and that wasn’t true for a long time,” Meutzner said. “And the demographic’s a lot younger. In our mind anybody under 40 is like, ‘Oh my God, what a whippersnapper.’”
WHAT’S ON … City of Nanaimo Culture and Heritage Awards ceremony takes place at the Port Theatre on Thursday, April 18. Doors at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 7. Tickets are free but must be reserved.