Nanaimo Museum has a new manager.
The Nanaimo and District Museum Society board of directors announced last month it selected Sophia Maher to take over the general manager position held by Debbie Trueman from 1989 until her retirement in September.
Maher will oversee the museum’s operations, including its financial management, exhibits and program planning, marketing, retail division, revenue generation for public programming and retail development.
Maher came from Edmonton where she was director of guest service and security at Rogers Place and prior to that was managing director of visitor experience at Fort Edmonton Park, one of Canada’s largest living history museums.
Maher was born in Alberta, but is no stranger to the Island. She and her family moved between Nanaimo, Edmonton and Vancouver, but her grandmother and mother lived in Nanaimo and with the years spent here and family ties, she considers Nanaimo home.
“It’s where I always come back,” she said. “I always land here. I always get involved here. It’s very much what I identify with as my hometown.”
Her first job in tourism was at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, which ultimately shifted her career path that started when she did the theatre program at Vancouver Island University, which progressed to her doing stage management work and studying acting at Studio 58 at Langara College in Vancouver.
“So I did it professionally for a while and then I moved on, I loved working at Capilano and got a good flavour for working in tourist attractions and I love that world, so that kind of changed my trajectory,” she said.
Theatre is still her hobby. Maher worked with Nanaimo Theatre Group and is still involved with Schmooze Productions.
“I’ve always been very involved in the arts and culture scene here and feel very connected,” she said. “I worked as a stage manager here and used to be on the call list for the Port Theatre years ago.”
Maher said landing the job with Nanaimo Museum is “a dream come true.”
“I’ve always loved the museum,” she said. “I volunteered here when it was in the old building years ago and I fell in love with it then and I love the stories Nanaimo has to tell … so when I came and got the opportunity to work here it was actually a dream come true. The building is gorgeous. The collection is in great shape. The team is fantastic. Debbie Trueman did an amazing job with the museum and it’s in great shape and I love it and I feel really honoured and happy to be here.”
Maher said she isn’t planning any changes right away, but does have ideas she’d like to bring in down the road.
“I didn’t want to come in and just start making changes without learning the museum, learning from the people who are here, learning from Debbie – she spent some time with me, which was excellent – and really checking it out,” Maher said. “So I’m in the process of doing that right now; getting my feet wet. Having said that, a museum in such great shape really has only one way to go and that’s growth, moving upward.”
Maher said she wants to expand on the museum’s ability to tell more stories of individuals from Nanaimo’s past, more women’s history included and more First Nations representation.
She also sees more opportunities for programs from the museum that reach out into the community, such as the museum’s cemetery tours.
“This year our lantern tours are very popular,” she said. “They’ve taken off and we’ve added some more, so what are other opportunities like those tours that we could be doing in the summer and things like that? … There’s a demand for programming from the museum and I’d like to be able to grow that as well.”