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Attempt to delay closure of Royal B.C. Museum galleries defeated by Victoria council

Third-floor galleries that focus on colonial narrative to be closed Jan. 2
Old Town will be one of several displays removed from the Royal BC Museum on Jan. 2 when it closes its third-floor galleries. (Black Press Media file photo)

Victoria city council rejected a motion Thursday that aimed to put off the closure of several Royal B.C. Museum galleries that push an incomplete and colonial narrative.

The third-floor galleries in question have been long criticized for celebrating Europeans’ settlement of the province and severely underrepresenting Indigenous Peoples and immigrant communities.

At the beginning of November, following a damning internal report on racism, the museum announced it will be closing the galleries on Jan. 2 and beginning a consultation process to determine how to replace them.

In a motion brought forward to council’s committee of the whole Nov. 18, Couns. Geoff Young and Stephen Andrew argued the galleries shouldn’t be closed until those replacement exhibits are ready. They requested that Mayor Lisa Helps write to the province and museum to push for the delay, citing fears around a possible loss of tourism. Young also questioned whether many parts of the galleries require removing.

“If exhibits actually harm people then of course they should be changed, but to the extent that they represent actual history and the experience of some of the people who’ve built the province, I think they need to remain,” Young told Black Press Media. “To me, it’s the destruction of some exhibits that I really like and enjoy.”

He said other communities do, however, require better representation in the museum.

READ ALSO: Royal B.C. Museum releases results of racism report, apologizes for mistreatment

At the meeting, Coun. Ben Isitt said he has also enjoyed some of the gallery displays, but pointed out – as countless Indigenous people have before – just how inaccurate and offensive ones like the First Peoples gallery are.

“It’s ahistorical. It presents Indigenous people as having existed in the past rather than being ongoing active members of the community,” Isitt said. The galleries also devote exceptionally little space to a people who have lived in what is now known as B.C. for thousands of years longer than settlers, he added.

Another fear Young presented to council was that the quick removal of the galleries could drain the “reservoir of good will” he believes people have for reconciliation.

“There’s a high degree of support for reconciliation in the region and the province, but it’s not limitless,” he said.

Helps quickly opposed the motion, disagreeing that a limit exists on good will or reconciliation.

“I don’t buy into that zero-sum look at the world,” she said.

Couns. Marianne Alto and Charlayne Thornton-Joe also spoke at the meeting to express their enjoyment of some of the museum’s galleries, but voiced an understanding of and agreement for the need for change.

The motion was defeated with only Young and Andrew in favour. The museum declined to comment.

READ ALSO: Royal B.C. Museum phasing out galleries that push colonial narrative

READ ALSO: 71% BIPOC experience racism in Greater Victoria, report finds

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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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