Sixty years ago, Campbell River’s museum started life as a collection in need of a home. Over time though, it has become a landmark on the map.
It wasn’t always easy, as the community had to rally to find a new home once the collection became too big. This Saturday, the community gets to celebrate its achievement with a birthday party.
“We do have things really for all ages,” said Erika Anderson, promotions manager for the Museum at Campbell River.
Starting in 1958, the museum consisted on some displays in the lobby of a fishing lodge, and in 1967 it moved to the Centennial Building, which also housed the library and visitor information centre. By the late 1970s, it was becoming evident the museum needed more space, and so began the campaign to build a new home. It took 15 years of fundraising and planning, but the building opened in 1994.
“I think it’s a testament not only to the many board and staff members that were involved, and museum members, but to the community,” executive director Sandra Parrish said. “The city, for example, was always very supportive of the project.”
Mary Ashley, freeman of the city, was mayor at the time the project faced a funding crisis, and her family had long been involved with museums. The community had gone as far as it could go with fundraising, she said, so council agreed to get a loan, thus allowing construction to begin at the former forestry office site the city had purchased.
“It was kind of the critical time,” she said. “It took ages and ages for us to reach the point where we even could start construction.”
Even with the city’s investment in the museum, Ashley said there was wide community support.
“Once we purchased the land, we were pretty involved, all of us, in trying to move it forward,” she said. “We had lots of support. We didn’t get criticized for that. When council borrows money, often it’s not really accepted.”
Beyond building the museum, there was a challenge in setting up space for exhibits. The project had been able to land Jean Jacques Andre, who worked on the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria and similar sites in Canada and the U.S., to design the exhibition space.
“They really sought good professional outside help,” Parrish said.
The Royal British Columbia Museum served as inspiration, specifically in how visitors would be immersed in the exhibits, according to Jeanette Taylor, who worked for the museum for many years.
“They feel something. They don’t just see a collection,” she said.
Taylor started at the Centennial location, which she admits was small but made great use of its space for its interpretive exhibits before moving to the current home. She gives Jay Stewart, then the executive director, much credit for how the museum developed.
“She was a visionary,” she said. “She just, right from the start, had a bigger vision of what the museum could be and should be.”
Taylor also credits the volunteers for their efforts.
“They made and still make a huge difference,” she added.
Now, the facility offers 7,000 square feet of space for major exhibits and has grown into a community institution that ranks alongside museums in major cities across Canada. Trip Advisor even ranked it as one of the top 10 museums in the country in 2014.
As impressive as the building is, the main attraction is what’s inside, and at this Saturday’s party people can see a cross-section of items often in storage or seen in the context of larger displays. The new exhibition’s aim is for each item to be presented on its own, so visitors can delve into its history.
“It wasn’t so much about the object itself,” Parrish said. “I think it’s all the stories that can connect with people, no matter where they’re from.”
For the exhibition and an accompanying book, the museum chose a “smattering” of 60 objects ranging from First Nations artefacts to old signs from around the community.
“We’re kind of a storehouse for stories in the community,” Anderson said.
The museum expects the big attraction will be the original Del’s sign, which has been restored after a fundraising campaign last fall. It is currently under wraps until its unveiling Saturday.
“We have the sign here in our collection,” Anderson said. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could get it working again?’… A lot of people in the community contributed to getting the sign restored.”
Original Del’s burgers will even be served up by the Rink Minx roller derby team. Other favourites will be the Steam Donkey running throughout the day and a station where people can learn how to make the paper-maker hats for the old Elk Falls Mill.
The museum wants to make the event as green as possible, as Green Party volunteers will sort waste and do recycling on location. The organizers are encouraging people to ride bikes to the event and bring their own water bottles.
The museum’s 60: The Party!, starts at 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 470 Island Highway.