The Royal BC Museum’s (RBCM) controversial Old Town display isn’t going anywhere. Instead, it’s going to be reimagined in a more inclusive way.
“We actually could not take down Old Town. It’s so filled with asbestos behind the scenes,” said RBCM CEO Alicia Dubois on Monday.
Dubois says RBCM doesn’t have the mandate from the province, nor the funds, to deal with the hazardous material. As a result, more than a year after the entire third floor closed to the public, Old Town is here to stay. The story it tells, however, will be updated.
“The idea of someone writing your own biography for you and you not being able to adjust it to put it in your own voice, make sure it’s accurate and correct, would be, I think, a really frightening experience,” said Dubois, using the metaphor to compare how Indigenous people must have felt walking through exhibits on the third floor of the RBCM.
The exhibit was critiqued as a lopsided display of European settler history. One that, by nature of its surrounding exhibits, excluded and kept separate the voices and experiences of British Columbia’s Indigenous people.
“At the end of the day…I think what we’re interested in is a much more mosaic approach as to how history is portrayed,” said Dubois.
“You walk up to the third floor, on one side you have First Nations and Indigenous history, on the other side you have everything else. There’s this divisiveness and almost anthropological approach to the First People’s Gallery, which doesn’t really reflect the storyline of history.”
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There is, however, one thing that will stay the same — the Chinatown display.
“The Chinatown community has said please, we worked so hard with you to create that. We’re really proud of it. We don’t want it touched. It will not be touched,” said Dubois.
Dubois says the display will likely be the first phase of Old Town to re-open to the public.
B.C.’s tourism minister Lana Popham says the sooner that happens, the better.
“I personally would like to see there be more access to the third floor and Old Town by the summer,” said Popham, citing concerns about losing out on tourism opportunities and those who want to share the exhibit with the next generations.
Dubois, though, said she’s focused on taking the time the museum needs to build trust with Indigenous communities across B.C.
“It’s hard for me to say when specifically this will be open,” said Dubois. “This year? Perhaps.”
This fall, public conversations will look at how to co-create the new Old Town.
Whenever it opens, Old Town will be telling a much different story — one that’s hoping to be inclusive and reflective of British Columbia as a whole.