Jordan Johns, Nanaimo Museum exhibit technician, checks over a display of a 1950s-era wedding gown originally sold by the Jean Burns clothing store that was formerly located at the corner of Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue in downtown Nanaimo. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Jordan Johns, Nanaimo Museum exhibit technician, checks over a display of a 1950s-era wedding gown originally sold by the Jean Burns clothing store that was formerly located at the corner of Commercial Street and Terminal Avenue in downtown Nanaimo. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Museum opens vault to reveal some of city’s lesser-known history

Artifacts in new exhibit tell rarely told stories from Nanaimo’s past with fresh perspectives

Nanaimo Museum is giving some of its seldomly seen treasures a chance to shine.

From the Vault, the museum’s first temporary exhibit of 2021, is an exhibit of rarely exhibited artifacts and photos that carry with them some compelling and surprising stories about Nanaimo’s people and history.

“Because of COVID we’ve had time to sit and reflect and look through our collection…” says Jordan Johns, exhibit technician. “Well, let’s look at the things that haven’t really been displayed much or have been hidden away for a while and we’ll do something along the lines of ‘From the Vault’, which started as a working title, which became also the title we ended up sticking with.”

Staff dug around in the museum’s stored artifacts to find items and parts of collections to help tell stories not seen in the museum every day, stories that haven’t been included in the museum’s permanent displays or stories that could inspire visitors to look at Nanaimo’s history from different perspectives.

Paintings by Nanaimo artist Francine Peters are part of more than a dozen displays within Nanaimo Museums new From the Vault temporary exhibit that opens Thursday, June 3. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Paintings by Nanaimo artist Francine Peters are part of more than a dozen displays within Nanaimo Museums new From the Vault temporary exhibit that opens Thursday, June 3. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

The 12 displays within the exhibit cover history of different ethnic groups in Nanaimo, wartime internment, the 1918 flu pandemic, festivals and celebrations and other stories.

“The other thing that we’ve done with the idea of From the Vault is that all of the staff members chose three historic photos from our photo collection and explained a little reasoning why they wanted those photos,” Johns says. “Everybody’s selections are on the walls here and it’s interesting to see what inspired personal selections.”

Johns says he chose to set up a display about bathtub races that includes former Nanaimo mayor Frank Ney’s pirate costume because he loves Bathtub Weekend, which Nanaimo hasn’t hosted since the COVID-19 pandemic started and wanted a way to celebrate it for 2021.

A First Nations carving from the early 1900s portrays two men hunting in a whaling canoe and is part of the display focusing on Snuneymuxw culture in Nanaimo Museum’s From the Vault exhibit. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

A First Nations carving from the early 1900s portrays two men hunting in a whaling canoe and is part of the display focusing on Snuneymuxw culture in Nanaimo Museum’s From the Vault exhibit. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Becka Macdonald, museum communications coordinator, said From the Vault also offered an opportunity to work with community groups.

A new program, Lost from the Vault, gives museum-goers a chance to test their problem-solving skills to unravel the mystery of a missing artifact. The program is designed to be fun for all ages and participants will embark on a self-guided hunt to decode clues, break ciphers and solve the mystery.

From the Vault runs through fall 2021. The Nanaimo Museum, located in the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and admission is by donation.

For more information, visit nanaimomuseum.ca or call 250-753-1821.

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