As Maple Ridge plans to expand its recreation and cultural places, a new museum should be on the list, says Brenda Smith, with the Maple Ridge Historical Society
“I have been working in some form of history for many years and in community development – and I just know – this is the time we need to be doing this.”
Smith, former chair of Maple Ridge’s heritage commission and now on the board, was part of the effort in 2005 to build a museum on 224th Street, just above Haney House. It would have cost about $7 million to put up a 16,000-sq.-foot structure, complete with a community galleries section, telling the story of each neighbourhood of Maple Ridge.
But successive councils never set aside the money to build it.
Now, a cultural facility with a museum, archives and small theatre is on the list of new recreation infrastructure, which council wants to take to the taxpayers this year. That new museum project is now priced at $11 million.
“The community understands that this is one of the things we need to approach the 21st Century,” said Smith.
“I think that a city that’s looking at 130,000 to 150,000 people in the next quarter century, really needs to be attending to this memory institution.
“We haven’t done a good job of that. We are a city and we are a mature community in the Lower Mainland and we ought to have a museum and archives that reflects that community.”
Creating a place that will tell Maple Ridge’s story isn’t just about money, she adds. It’s about going through the process of hearing what the community wants and persuading people that it’s needed.
“I think a lot of this is dependent on political will, and strong political leadership to explain to the community what it could have,” said Smith.
She was involved in a process in Quesnel 20 or so years ago, when the city voted to build a new ice rink, fairgrounds and arts centre.
“And the community opened its heart and voted for it.
“The community understood that these were some of things needed to approach the 20th Century.”
City of Maple Ridge staff are just now prioritizing which projects should be built and in which order, everything from a new aquatic centre, sports fields to a museum.
Council wants to take the project list, and its cost, to the taxpayers for their OK sometime this year.
Coun. Craig Speirs, also on the Maple Ridge community heritage commission, shares Smith’s view.
“I think the time is just about right for the community,” he said.
Something has to be built that will serve a future Maple Ridge that will have a population of 120,000, he added.
“We’re not a small city. We’re 80,000 plus.”
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read has said previously that money from the federal government could reduce the cost for a museum. With the participation of the Kwantlen and Katzie First Nations, there could be more cost sharing.
But First Nations involvement is just a given, Smith added.
And Katzie First Nations chief Susan Miller said her band is interested, though there have been no formal talks.
“Absolutely. I think it would be a wonderful example of the vibrant culture we have, both with Katzie and Kwantlen.”
The National Trust for Canada’s website lists several programs which fund museums.
Maple Ridge Museum director Val Patenaude said most museums now combine First Nations and European history and that every First Nation has to decide how it will tell its story.
The City of Maple Ridge is already the repository of First Nations artifacts, which it stores for the band, although ownership resides with the aboriginal group.
“We don’t own the artifacts. They’re held in trust wherever they are.”
She pointed out that a decade ago, the city and Katzie had an agreement for a museum, but that will now have to be revived with new councils in place.
“I can’t see moving forward without some level of partnership.”
Patenaude, though, said a key part for securing dollars is for the city to make space in its budget for the yearly operating costs, otherwise senior governments won’t provide the money.
She favours a purpose-built museum centrally located in downtown Maple Ridge so people can easily access it via transit, walking or by car.
But she could also accept another modern building adapted to serve as a museum.
However, she acknowledges that a museum and archives are not seen in the same public light as sports facilities.
“We’re happy to be back under consideration again.”
One scenario could be putting in a museum into a larger, multi-use community centre, where it could be operated at minimal cost, assisted by senior government grants, suggested Deputy Mayor Tyler Shymkiw.
“There should be some pots of money out there for federal or provincial or First Nations funding for some of this. I think that’s where council really has some interest.”
A more pressing issue is creating archival space, which could potentially go in a separate location from a museum. Archives can fit into many spaces, Shymkiw said.
“There’s potential to do the archival piece in a ton of different ways. We need to address that quickly, otherwise we’re going to be in a situation where we’re losing our history.”
Taxpayers will figure prominently in whatever’s decided for a museum or an archives.
“I think it’s something the community should decide. I think we need to have a robust, public consultation.”