The Vancouver Island Military Museum will explore fresh ideas from its new base of operations in downtown Nanaimo.
The museum, which operated in Nanaimo North Town Centre since 1986, moved into the old Nanaimo District Museum site, the Centennial Building in Piper Park at 100 Cameron Rd. in February and opened its doors to the public Sept. 30. The move bumped the museum’s exhibition space to more 5,000 square feet from 3,500 square feet, giving it more space for new and different kinds of exhibits plus better graphics and illustrations.
“Prior to moving here, most of the stuff that we’d get we just collected the stuff, but we didn’t have the room to properly display it,” said Brian McFadden, museum vice-president. “With this layout here, we were able to get better graphics, which we couldn’t before. So we spent a lot of time and effort on getting good illustrations.”
Strong photographs and illustrations hook the visitor’s interest into reading background text accompanying exhibits.
“Then you can do a good explanation, ‘This is what it looked like. This is what happened,’ and we couldn’t do that before,” McFadden said.
The museum will always be a work in progress, but initially staff want to increase traffic through the doors. Tourists arriving aboard cruise ships found their way to the new site through the summer, with American military veterans taking a keen interest and dropping cash in the donation jar, prompted in part by the free admission for military veterans and active service members.
Museum staff and volunteers also want to link more connections with the community and reach out to Nanaimo schools to help educate students about Canada’s military history.
Local clubs and organizations are reaching out to the museum with requests for visits and offers of sponsorship.
“One of the things we’d like to do is get groups from different organizations to come here and do group tours, more to involve the local community and also become more heavily involved with the economic development and tourism,” McFadden said.
“We didn’t do that before because we weren’t really a destination. We were in the mall and it wasn’t convenient.
“What we find now is more people are coming and looking for us because they’ve heard about us.”
For the 2013 tourist season, staff plan to seriously beef up public awareness of the museum’s location.
New exhibits include models and graphics of Japanese aircraft, a section honouring contributions by First Nations troops, Hong Kong during the Second World War and a home front exhibit featuring St. John Ambulance, the Red Cross, the Canadian Rangers, RCMP and North West Mounted Police.
McFadden said the museum has to be careful about creating exhibits featuring images and artifacts of Canada’s past and present foes.
Sentiments can run strong, but staff also have to be mindful of the museum’s role and purpose.
“This is not a war museum, is one of the first things I tell people when they come to a tour,” McFadden said. “We don’t glorify war here. What we try to do is show an extraordinary range of human endeavor.”