Royal B.C. Museum refresh shifts gears in Victoria

New site plan to be created that aims to give venerable facility more than just a facelift

Victoria-based architect Paul Merrick

Victoria-based architect Paul Merrick

Jack Lohman was animated describing how the Royal B.C. Museum will morph from a facility that is “tired and in need of upgrades” to one that reaches “new levels of excellence.”

The museum CEO, who completes his first year on the job March 26, used Tuesday’s announcement of a top-notch architectural team for the museum’s major upgrade to explain his vision for the future.

Comparing the current entrance hall to that of a shopping mall, he called for the creation of a more welcoming and appropriate gateway to the exhibits.

Not only that, he said, the facility needs a refresh to make it more appealing and accessible to visitors, both locals and tourists.

“We know tourism here is a five-month, intense period, but we need to attract visitors all year round,” he said. “We have a huge local population that is very educated and deeply interested in history and culture. We need to make that offer to the local community, but at the same time we are a museum for the entire province.”

Despite the big-picture talk, the announcement Tuesday was merely the kickoff to six months of work to create a new master site plan for the museum precinct. The goal is to see significant changes by 2017 and completion of the work in time for B.C.’s sesquicentennial in 2021.

John McAslan’s internationally renowned London company will serve as lead architect in the creation of that plan, which also involves the B.C. Archives next door.

Recognizing the need to air out the museum’s offerings, he pointed to a need to “allow the building to breathe and be connected in a way that allows movement and circulation.”

Lohman distanced himself from a previous development plan that called for two more towers to be built onsite, a plan for which the museum received a rezoning for the property in 2011.

The idea of erecting two office towers “scared me,” Lohman said, adding he felt it was an inappropriate way to develop museum space. The overarching objective is to create a master plan for the existing site, obtaining better value for what’s already there, rather than creating a building plan, he said.

Victoria Coun. Pam Madoff, city council’s unofficial heritage watchdog for more than a decade, sounded excited about the possibilities for the site, especially with McAslan on board.

Aware of the type of major transformations the U.K. company has undertaken – rebuilding the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, or refurbishing a stodgy King’s Cross Station in London before the 2012 Olympics, for example – Madoff’s eyes lit up talking about the opportunity to remake the provincial museum.

“It’s his principles that interest me,” she said of the vision McAslan and colleagues have demonstrated. “It’s about recognizing the value in what’s there while being sensitive (to the surroundings). I’ve never felt so optimistic.”

The 2011 rezoning was a painful process, Madoff recalled. “Those (ideas) were built on a business model,” she says. “Today’s plan is what does the museum need?”

Local architect Paul Merrick, whose firm will play a leading role in developing and interpreting the visions of the McAslan group.

Merrick recalled that the museum was built by the W.A.C. Bennett government in the rather utilitarian style of the 1960s.

“It was essentially a black box that was habited by experiences, or what we call ‘exhibits’ today,” he said.

While technology improvements and additions such as the National Geographic IMAX Theatre have created added value for the facility, he said, they haven’t done anything to remove impedances to first-time visitors.

Merrick considers the corner of Belleville and Government streets Ground Zero for tourists in Victoria, given its proximity to the legislature, the Fairmont Empress Hotel and the Inner Harbour.

The museum is juxtaposed between those two architectural icons, he said, yet often gets missed, in part due to its somewhat nondescript appearance.

“People can be standing right there, but still have to ask “Where is the Royal B.C. Museum?’”

editor@vicnews.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sidney Jon Blair said he would have died if a van and car had collided at the intersection of corner of Resthaven Drive and Brethour Avenue in early December. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Sidney senior urges motorists to slow down on Resthaven Drive

Jon Blair said community must become more pedestrian-friendly

Tarpaulin-covered tents sit next to one of the ponds in Beacon Hill Park. The location of the Meegan community care tent has still not been nailed down, as Victoria council rejected the recommendation offered by city staff. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
Location of care tent for Victoria’s Beacon Hill campers still not settled

Council roundly rejects Avalon Road site, road’s edge on Cook Street appears the top alternative

Bob Joseph, author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, will be available for a Q&A through the Vancouver Island Regional Library Jan. 28. (Courtesy of Vancouver Island Regional Library)
Q&A on the Indian Act with Bob Joseph open to Greater Victoria residents

Bob Joseph is the author of 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act

Coaches with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey association have had to get creative during their weekly practices to keep players interested and improving their skills without physical contact. (Damian Kowalewich photo)
West Shore minor hockey coach shares what it’s like on the ice without parents, fans

Most practices consist of relay races, goalie shots and passing drills

The Songhees Wellness Centre is a symbol of First Nations strength in the region. Representatives of local First Nations will soon play a greater role in decision making and governance relating to the Capital Regional District. (Courtesy Royal Roads University)
Capital Regional District to add First Nations representatives to advisory committees

Board approves bylaw, looks forward to Indigenous input on future decisions

A scene from “Canada and the Gulf War: In their own words,” a video by The Memory Project, a program of Historica Canada, is shown in this undated illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Historica Canada
New video marks Canada’s contributions to first Gulf War on 30th anniversary

Veterans Affairs Canada says around 4,500 Canadian military personnel served during the war

A 17-year-old snowmobiler used his backcountry survival sense in preparation to spend the night on the mountain near 100 Mile House Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021 after getting lost. (South Cariboo Search and Rescue Facebook photo)
Teen praised for backcountry survival skills after getting lost in B.C.’s Cariboo mountains

“This young man did everything right after things went wrong.”

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on December 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
No place for ‘far right’ in Conservative Party, Erin O’Toole says

O’Toole condemned the Capitol attack as ‘horrifying’ and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism

A passer by walks in High Park, in Toronto, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. This workweek will kick off with what’s fabled to be the most depressing day of the year, during one of the darkest eras in recent history. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
‘Blue Monday’ getting you down? Exercise may be the cure, say experts

Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions to curb soaring COVID-19 case counts

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down

Anita Anand said she understands and shares Canadians’ concerns about the drug company’s decision

Tourists take photographs outside the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday August 26, 2011. A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the provincial government to not pursue plans to ban domestic travel to fight the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

B.C. government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

Everett Bumstead (centre) and his crew share a picture from a tree planting location in Sayward on Vancouver Island from when they were filming for ‘One Million Trees’ last year. Photo courtesy, Everett Bumstead.
The tree-planting life on Vancouver Island featured in new documentary

Everett Bumstead brings forth the technicalities, psychology and politics of the tree planting industry in his movie

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)

Most Read