A side view of the new museum and archives planned in 2005.

A side view of the new museum and archives planned in 2005.

Scale back new museum project

Columnist Fred Braches says it's time to rethink the plans for a new museum in Maple Ridge

On Sept. 25, members and friends of the Maple Ridge Historical Society gathered to revisit and revive the 2005 dreams of a new museum building, a dream that died in 2006.

They were guided in their quest by two wise men with some combined 90 years of experience in building and renovating museums.

To get our new museum building, the wise men said the historical society would have to find a champion, someone young and energetic and capable of kicking up a storm of enthusiasm and vast financial contributions for the new museum among the now indifferent residents of Maple Ridge – both individual and corporate.

“If the museum/ archives were to disappear, who would care?” was one of the questions asked in this context.

Most of our fellow citizens would say like the Scots: “damned few, and they’re all dead.”

As most museums of its kind, our community museum has collections of strange, wonderful, and interesting objects from the past, as well as archives of printed materials and unique unpublished papers and photographs.

Today’s museum space does not allow physical differentiation between museum collections from the archives.

The 2005 building plan allotted separate spaces for the two groups with an emphasis on display for the museum collections and long-term preservation for the archival material.

Due to lack of space, only a small portion of the museum’s collection can be displayed at any time. Many objects are stored elsewhere in makeshift facilities.

The objects shown in the museum may not be unique, but, with only a few exceptions, the origins and the stories of every piece are known.

For visitors, these objects bring the past to life in many ways different from the written word or just a picture.

The objects are also a source of wonder for younger people, who can hardly imagine a world without electronics.

For the many friends of the museum, the loss of the museum collections would be unimaginable.

The loss of archival records, the handwritten documents, the photographs and other unique documents would be a catastrophe for researchers, local historians, family historians, and the entire community.

Aside from being objects of historical value, the records are unique and irreplaceable and a gold mine where researchers find treasures: pieces for that still unfinished puzzle that is historic Maple Ridge and the residents of yesterday.

These are the records where the many family historians among us find traces of their ancestry. This is where the museum staff searches for answers to enquiries from the public at large, newspapers, and the District of Maple Ridge.

It is a major way in which the museum clearly provides an essential service and matches a community need.

Is the 2005 dream still relevant?

Yes, because we still want a better display of the museum collection.

The 2005 plan is, however, not feasible at this time, or in the foreseeable future, because of the cost involved in the project.

Rather than a $6 million, 12,000 sq. ft. facility, the historical society may want to aim for a 5,000 sq. ft. building to accommodate the community archives, management office space and enough room for staff to do research.

In addition to the community archive records, the building would also house all non-archival documents, newspapers, cutting files. That would make for an efficient information centre for the community and it would free up some small extra space for displays in the present building.

This reduced expansion for which an estimate has still to be made, but for which the cost would be a fraction of the original plan, has as least a chance, with or without a champion, to find community support, and to see a new building constructed within a few years.

Fred Braches is a local historian who lives in Whonnock.