Monday, May 05, 2008
Vancouver - The Maritime Museum, with a collection of marine artifacts worth more than $14 million, has been told to close its doors by the end of 2009, The Vancouver Sun has learned.
The Vancouver Maritime Museum Society, which has been quietly trying to work with the city on a plan to move the collection to the proposed National Maritime Centre in North Vancouver, went public Monday, saying the city is forcing it to close before a plan is in place for the collection's survival.
Instead, the city is proceeding with an appraisal of the museum's 35,000 artifacts, 20,000-book library and 114,000-document archives with a view towards getting rid of anything it doesn't consider historically significant.
For half a century volunteers have looked after and cherished the Maritime Museum, accumulating a collection to make it one of the best museums of its kind in North America.
Its centrepiece is the RCMP's historic Arctic schooner St. Roch, the first ship to circumnavigate North America and to go through the fabled Northwest Passage.
The dispute erupted Monday when society president Hector Williams sent a blistering letter to Sue Harvey, the city's managing director of cultural services after the city last week issued what he called "a termination agreement."
In his letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Vancouver Sun, Williams accused Harvey of ignoring the volunteer board's efforts to protect the museum's vast collection, insisting on unrealistic timelines for a transition to a new location, and of endangering the St. Roch, a National Heritage Site.
He said Harvey had been dismissive and disrespectful, and that her responses "show ignorance, or a wilful denial, of the issues involved in real transition planning."
He concluded that "if the city's intent is to terminate the museum, break up the collection and remove it from public display, it will have to do so by its own hand and not through the [society]."
Harvey said in an interview that the city is simply assessing the collection, which it owns, and will report back to council for further direction.
"Clearly they are upset," she said of the board. "I am not sure that there is in fact a dispute.
"This is a long-standing conversation that goes back many years. Both the city and the museum need clarity about the future of the collection, the museum and the land."
She said the city received a request from North Vancouver for an assessment of the collection prior to parts of it being included in the new centre.
Harvey said the museum society and the city have for years discussed plans to move the museum from Kitsilano Point.
The recommendation to close as of the end of 2009 was based on the society's request for a transition agreement.
The city contributes nearly $400,000 a year to the museum, and the agreement would stabilize that funding, she said.
"What we are doing is responding to their request for a transition plan, and that happened to have a three year timeline in it," she said.
However, Williams said the society's request for transition funding is being used as a weapon against it, and the city's proposal, which the society has now rejected, would force the museum to close before a new home is found for the collection.
He also questioned why the city would want the museum to close only months before the 2010 Winter Games, an event that he said would greatly boost the museum's bottom line.
"This is an incredibly insensitive thing to do," he said. "The risk they are taking is that all the momentum for public participation, and for support from donors, will come to an end."
The museum also houses the Wally Chung Collection, a vast archive of Canadian Pacific documents and memorabilia unlike any other in the world.
The appraisal is being done by Commonwealth Historic Resource Management, which last year issued a review of the collection in which it said "is a coherent collection in which the value of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts"
The dispute comes as plans for the proposed National Maritime Centre got a boost from the province. On Friday Premier Gordon Campbell announced B.C. would contribute $9 million to the new centre, contingent on matching federal funds. However, the proposed $80 million centre is still not a certainty.