What’s old is new again. Or at least, it will be.
While the Royal BC Museum undergoes changes to tell a more inclusive and representative story of British Columbia’s history, the “old town” exhibit whose removal triggered widespread backlash will be making a return in some form.
The exhibit, which portrays early European settler history in the region, was dismantled last year as part of the museum’s third-floor decolonization effort.
But on Monday, Tourism Minister Lana Popham said to reporters that following a round of public consultations, the exhibit could make a comeback — potentially offering a new perspective on B.C.’s story.
“I think that there’s going to be ways to bring that back. I don’t know the timeline of it, but my expectation is that the museum will open it to the public in the way that they want,” said Popham. “People miss it, they’re passionate about it and they want access to it.”
She mentioned that during consultations, members of the Chinese community expressed pride in the exhibit and their desire for it to remain as they helped developed part of it with the museum.
“They’re very proud of it and they want it to stay there,” she said.
While acknowledging that some parts of the exhibit, such as the train station, will not be coming back, Popham expressed her belief that “there’s parts of it that can open up” in the future. However, she noted that the museum board would be the one to make the final decision on whether and how the “old town” exhibit would return.
“They have to make decisions internally on whether or not that exhibit specifically comes back,” she said.
RBCM had previously stated that elements of the exhibits chronicling early European settler history, including the ‘old town’ replica, would return in a new form as the museum developed a “new narrative.” Popham’s comments Monday confirmed that elements used in the original replica will return, but how they’re displayed or recontextualized remains unknown.
“The third floor has been a hot topic for the last little while, and I think people are really wondering what will happen there, will they be able to return, I think the answer is yes but it’s a little bit in question right now about how that will look,” she said.
The RBCM has said the process could take years and will involve consultations with all voices from British Columbia, including First Nations, Métis people, and those of South Asian and Chinese heritage, who all played roles in the province’s history.
The public consultations were launched earlier this year to gather input on the future of RBCM operations following a scrapped nearly $800-million rebuild plan.
The “decanting” process of the third-floor exhibits is shown below in CHEK’s “This Week In History” feature segment: