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Upgrades to Royal BC Museum announced; Liberals say they will scrap $789 million plan

Premier John Horgan

A new state-of-the-art and seismically safe Royal BC Museum (RBCM) is coming to Victoria, unless Kevin Falcon become premier.

The Liberal Party leader says he would scrap the $789 million project announced this week by Premier John Horgan.

“For decades, people from British Columbia and around the globe have come to the Royal BC Museum to learn about our special corner of the world,” said Horgan. “For just as long, the stories told here have failed to accurately reflect our colonial history or include everyone, and priceless collections are now being put at risk in an aging building. That’s why today, we are making this historic investment to build a safer, more inclusive and accessible modern building. Once complete, the new museum will be a flagship destination for tourism and a place where generations to come will learn about the richness and diversity of B.C.’s history.”

Falcon, however, calls it a ‘vanity’ project and and it comes at a bad time.

“The timing of this announcement is unbelievable,” said Falcon. “Life has never been more expensive than it is today under this two-term NDP government — but instead of providing people with relief from skyrocketing grocery costs and gas prices hitting $2.34 a litre, the premier has launched a pricey vanity project in his own backyard. He needs to scrap this plan and recognize that it’s not about the building, it’s about the history inside it. The NDP could renovate the museum to be seismically safe at a much lower cost, while still ensuring adequate resources for conservation and Indigenous repatriation efforts to ensure the museum reflects the full history of British Columbia.” 

Like the Royal BC Museum’s collections and research building in Colwood, the new museum will be built to achieve high efficiency for all its HVAC systems. Both buildings will incorporate mass timber construction to leverage B.C.’s strengths in building innovation and support good jobs. These approaches will deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs.

The new museum will also be one of the first government projects of this size that partners with local First Nations on the project team, participating in both project development and delivery, including design influence to reflect the Lekwungen peoples, and members of the Songhees Nation and Esquimalt Nation.

The new museum will reflect the input from consultations with British Columbians and Indigenous communities captured in the report What We Heard. It will broaden existing cultural displays and content to reflect B.C.’s authentic history, according to a news release.

The new buildings will also ensure modern accessibility standards are addressed, removing physical, sensory and cultural barriers. The museum’s design will support Indigenous territory recognition and incorporate ceremonial, cultural and celebratory spaces.

“The way in which we share and learn from the truths and lived experiences of our past is fundamental to how we build our future and strengthen the fabric of our communities,” said Alicia Dubois, CEO, Royal BC Museum. “Museums have a unique responsibility to promote understanding, inspire growth and change, and give hope to future generations. The work to modernize the Royal BC Museum is a legacy project that will enrich, inspire and continue to benefit British Columbians and Indigenous Peoples for generations to come. Everyone in the province will have access to a modern museum like never before.”

Continued engagement with British Columbians, local businesses and Indigenous communities will inform the exhibitions and programming for the new state-of-the-art museum.

Opposition House Leader Todd Stone says the premier’s announcement shows just how out of touch he is with the struggles faced by British Columbians.  

“One in five British Columbians don’t have a family doctor; walk-in clinic wait times are the worst in the country; crime, homelessness and overdose deaths are at record levels; and people can no longer afford to drive to work or to medical appointments. They need help now,” says Stone. “A modest upgrade to the museum is one thing, but spending one billion dollars in the middle of simultaneous affordability, public health and public safety crises is another. The Premier needs to open his eyes to the realities British Columbians are facing and change course. Or, if he’s still convinced it’s such a great idea, he should release the full and un-redacted business case and cost benefit analysis immediately.” 

British Columbians and visitors will be able to experience the collections and exhibitions at the downtown Victoria site until September 2022, when the museum will close.

While the museum building is closed, the Royal BC Museum will extend its presence and engage with communities throughout British Columbia. Provincewide travelling exhibitions, regional satellite displays and an interactive walking tour in Victoria will help make the museum accessible to all British Columbians. Unique events, community programs and learning experiences will be offered throughout the province, along with innovative virtual programs and digital tools available to all.

RBCM will contribute to the modernization project through its fundraising campaigns.

The museum will close its doors on Sept. 6, 2022. BC Archives services will not be disrupted and will remain open at the downtown site until it moves to its new permanent home at the collections and research building in 2025. Imax Victoria, the museum’s gift shop and the food trucks located at the museum will stay open through early 2023.

The new museum will bring significant economic and social benefits to the region, supporting more than 1,950 direct construction jobs, as well as more than 1,050 associated jobs, which will all contribute to B.C.’s COVID-19 economic recovery.

The new modernized provincial museum is expected to open in 2030.


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