Military museum sets sights on new location

The Vancouver Island Military Museum has new marching orders — it's on a mission to occupy the formerly vacant Centennial Building at Piper Park.

John Pierce

John Pierce

The Vancouver Island Military Museum has new marching orders – it’s on a mission to occupy the vacant Centennial Building at Piper Park.

The military museum’s lease at Nanaimo North Town Centre set to expire at the end of this year, and with the possibility of demolition hanging over the Centennial Building, the city’s heritage planner Chris Sholberg introduced the idea of the war veterans moving their displays into the old Nanaimo Museum site, which has been unused since 2007 when the Nanaimo Museum began moving to its new location at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

“It seemed like a natural,” said Sholberg. “A great opportunity.”

In June, city staff helped council, Nanaimo Museum, which still maintains some storage space on one level of the two-storey building, and the military museum draft a lease agreement that will see 70 per cent of the annual $30,000 operating budget covered by the war veterans and 30 per cent covered by Nanaimo Museum.

The city, which in 2009 considered razing the building due to maintenance costs, will contribute a new roof, electrical and HVAC upgrades.

“We’re looking forward to it because it gives us an opportunity to get down to the core of Nanaimo,” said Brian McFadden, spokesman for the military museum. “It’s a very valuable building. It’s in an ideal location and what better way to replace the building than with another museum?”

Roger Bird, president of the military museum, said the accessibility to the new site will be excellent and its location close to the waterfront and other tourist attractions will encourage more visitors.

“We’ll be right next to the Nanaimo Museum so everything will be within walking distance – the waterfront, two museums, the conference centre and possibly the new hotel down the line. Add in the cruise ship terminal and it’s the perfect location,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Centennial Building was added to the city’s heritage registry along with Piper Park and the grounds, including the train and miner’s cottage. Sholberg said while the building is recognized as a heritage structure, having it on the registry does not protect it.

“You definitely want a heritage building to be used to save it from being taken down, so this works out well,” he said.

The octagon-shaped Centennial Building was built in 1967 as part of the country’s centennial celebrations and was paid for with federal funds.

Jacqueline Barley, whose father Les Barley was the architect of the building, worked hard to save the building from demolition and advocated to have it installed on the heritage registry. Les Barley will  celebrate his 100th birthday on Sept. 19.

Barley said she is relieved the site will get a second chance.

“It’s wonderful news,” she said. “The building is supposed to be a museum, that’s what it was designed to be.”

The lease agreement is for 10 years and is considered a disposition of land, as Piper Park was dedicated through a bylaw, which means the move will require the assent of Nanaimo voters through an alternative approval process set for September.

The military museum expects to use the two upper floors, while the Nanaimo Museum Society will continue to use a portion of the first floor for storage.

“It’s a very good fit and a win-win for all involved,” said Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan. “When a building is abandoned and not in use, it deteriorates quickly … but this will be a revenue producer for the city because the new tenants are paying and I think it will work out nicely for all involved.”

The Vancouver Island Military Museum is expected to move into its new location early in 2012.