‘There is a new story here’: Historic Old Town exhibit reopens at the Royal BC Museum

'There is a new story here': Historic Old Town exhibit reopens at the Royal BC Museum

The “Old Town” exhibit, a much-beloved section of the Royal BC Museum’s third floor, reopened Saturday with a new approach designed to tell stories about all cultural groups across the province. 

The exhibit, which portrays early European settler history in the region, was dismantled on Dec. 31, 2021, in an effort to “decolonize” the museum and update it to remove racism.

Following the exhibit’s closure, the province announced plans to spend $789 million to tear down and replace the museum.

READ MORE: B.C. to spend $789 million to replace Royal BC Museum

This move was met with public scrutiny and outcry, which led the province to abandon the plan.

“That changed,” Lana Popham, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, told CHEK News. “Trying to reverse the packing that was being done and plans to move took some time, but I think we all agreed that the best thing that could happen is we would open this summer.”

The re-opened exhibit may look, feel and even have the same smells from shop displays, but Popham said there have been changes to make the exhibit more inclusive.

“There is a new story here,” she said. “There’s interpretive panels for people, and people can wander around and not only see the story that was, but it reflects everybody’s story. There was a lot that was lacking in Old Town and now those stories are becoming more prominent.”

RELATED: Royal BC Museum will revisit ‘old town’ after public backlash, consultations: minister

According to the museum, the story of sleeping car porters, many of whom made their home in Vancouver’s Black community, Hogan’s Alley, is now part of the Port Moody train station exhibit.

These panels were created in partnership with the BC Black History Awareness society and curator Josh Robertson.

Also included are an acknowledgement of the land and the people who lived on it before industrial development began and a number of thought-provoking questions to inspire visitors to consider their own experiences and memories.

The Majestic Theatre will also screen a number of Living Cultures films, collaboratively developed with Indigenous cultural ambassadors.

Tracey Drake, incoming and acting CEO of the museum, said this is the first stage of changes, adding that as the museum continues community engagement the exhibit will evolve to share stories of all the cultural groups across the province.

“For example, the old drapery shop is now empty. There is a lease sign in the window,” Drake explained. “So what we will be looking to our communities [for] is looking at other significant cultural business owners from that era, and there were many, and really starting to tell those stories within our space.”

The updates were received well by those who spoke to CHEK News.

Victoria resident Mary MacKay said her family was excited the Royal BC Museum decided to enhance and add to the exhibit instead of erase it.

“I think even just the few memos that we have seen around the different displays are just going to enhance everybody’s experience here to learn, to grow from the past and figure out the best step forward,” she said.

Donna de Haan, another Victoria resident, said she likes to see a lot of settlement diversity in the Old Town exhibit.

“Not only the European settlers, but from China, Japan and elsewhere in the world,” de Haan explained. “That’s important to see here.”

Entry into Old Town is included with general admission tickets or a museum membership.

More information on the exhibits and how to purchase tickets can be found on the Royal BC Museum’s website.

Mackenzie ReadMackenzie Read

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