Archeological society on the brink of collapse

Membership in group has steadily dwindled over the years

The Nanaimo branch of the Archaeological Society of B.C. is close to becoming a thing of the past, but an emergency meeting earlier this week sparked some renewed interest in the organization.

Colleen Parsley, society president, said numbers have dwindled over the years from as many as 70 paid members to around 20, though an interest list exceeds 100 people.

“We really don’t know exactly why it has dropped off,” said Parsley. “But there is not a lot of political will [at the provincial level] for being proactive around archeology. It’s not a money issue, it’s about political will. It’s a struggle.”

Heritage groups in the community have had problems connecting in the past, she said, and Monday’s meeting sought solutions to include more capacity building and connectivity, such as making better use of social media and reaching out to students who might be interested in archeology.

Like many archeological societies in B.C., the Nanaimo branch is in a Catch-22 situation in trying to attract members. Visiting sites is a key attraction for many people, but as more people are introduced to a site, the greater the risk to that location.

“Lectures aren’t very engaging for some people,” said Parsley. “Some people love them, but some people prefer field trips, which is great, but we’re often limited in finding appropriate places to take people.”

Society members who visit sites are often asked to sign an ethical agreement, which puts the society in a difficult position because its mandate is to conserve and protect each site while educating the public.

David Hill-Turner, curator of the Nanaimo Museum, said the society is an integral part of maintaining Nanaimo’s history and is credited with discovering sites, as well as making the general public aware of the area’s early history.

“It’s a valuable resource in our community,” said Hill-Turner. “It works closely with the museum and Snuneymuxw First Nation and really makes us more aware of the extent of the First Nation history in the Nanaimo area.”

Hill-Turner said he believes membership has dropped simply because many people are too busy to offer their time.

“It seems to be people have interest, but not the time,” he said. “Archeology requires people to physically get their hands into doing something and it generally requires a lot of organization.”

One of the society’s greatest accomplishments came in 1997 when it completed the Nanaimo Archaeological Site Re-survey, which resurveyed all known archeological sites in Nanaimo to determine accurate boundaries while categorizing a more efficient database.

Prior to that, sites were recorded in an unorganized and random fashion that were less informative. This past spring, the society partnered with Vancouver Island University on a preliminary survey of Nanaimo’s former Chinatown.

“The site re-survey was a major piece of work, one of our best contributions,” said Parsley.

Parsley said she was encouraged by the turnout to Monday’s meeting. A second meeting on Monday (Nov. 14) at Nanaimo Museum is planned for anyone interested to further expand on ideas on how to salvage the group.

The ASBC Nanaimo branch was founded in 1994 and operates as a non-profit organization.