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Construction on controversial $789M Royal BC Museum replacement set to start in September

Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said if elected premier he would halt plans to build a new Royal BC Museum
People walk up stairs to the entrance of the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, December 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

The province has made the unprecedented decision to release its business case and concept plan to replace the Royal BC Museum after the estimated cost of $789 million caused plenty of controversy last week.

According to the province, the business case backs the museum’s legislated mandate to protect B.C.’s natural and human artifacts, while providing culturally apropriate shared history.

“Developed in 2018, the plan assessed the cost of options to repair, revitalize or replace the museum, and showed that the cost of repair or revitalization would be more than building a new museum without meeting overall project objectives,” the province said Wednesday, (May 25).

Tourism Minister Melanie Mark said the new museum, which will replace the existing one next to the B.C. Legislature, will be paired with a new collection and research facility in Colwood, making it the best choice to address Indigenous reconciliation, safety issues and accessibility barriers.

READ: Government to present business case for Royal B.C. Museum upgrade next week

READ: Royal B.C. Museum gets $789-million overhaul

The current site is beyond its useful life and includes hazardous materials like asbestos, lead, mercury and arsenic, the business case shows. RBCM also had several flooding and backed-up sewage incidents caused by last fall’s rainfall.

The museum doesn’t have the space to organize and steward the Indigenous collection in a respectful way, officials said, adding that it’s also hindering repatriation efforts because the building lacks the room to host Indigenous communities from across the province.

While RBCM holds more than seven million objects and artifacts, officials noted that only one per cent are displayed at any given time due to the space and storage constraints at the downtown site.

The province highlighted several instances where the museum missed out on “world-class” touring exhibits due to factors like inadequate loading bays that cause streets to be closed and museum walls to be removed to get some exhibits inside. RBCM lost out on hosting the Royal Ontario Museum’s blue whale exhibit because the creature’s skull couldn’t fit the service elevator.

The museum’s environmental systems also fall short of being able to moderate conditions – such as temperature and humidity – that are mandated for preserving artifacts and preventing them from degrading.

READ: Hospitals, schools or a new Royal B.C. Museum, opposition asks

In a previous announcement on the funding, Premier John Horgan said that once complete the museum will be “a flagship destination for tourism in British Columbia but particularly here in Victoria, and it will be a place where generations of British Columbians will learn more about the extraordinary history of this province.”

But not everyone is happy with the decision.

Green Party leader Adam Olsen said in a statement that NDP failed to complete “meaningfully consulting” with the public.

“They have yet to justify why this project is a priority when people are struggling with the rising costs of living and accessing basic healthcare services,” Olson said.

“The BC NDP have framed the new Museum as an act of reconciliation and an opportunity for increased repatriation of items, but today’s business case clearly points to the construction of a larger and ‘modernized’ building to house our sacred items and ancestral remains as the primary objective.”

Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon has said if elected premier he would halt the NDP’s plans, calling it a “billion-dollar vanity project.”

The current museum will close its doors in September to allow for the demolition of the current building, and instead be offering travelling exhibitions and regional satellite displays throughout the province, before the new museum is expected to open in 2030.

Meanwhile, the next provincial election is anticipated in 2024. According to the province’s project timeline, that’s the same year officials expect to award contracts for construction on the replacement building, set to begin in 2025.

READ ALSO: Royal B.C. Museum gets $789-million overhaul


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Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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