The Royal B.C. Museum (RBCM) is set to reopen an exhibit later this summer that’s long been criticized for underrepresenting Indigenous Peoples and immigrant communities.
The Victoria museum’s Old Town gallery will reopen on July 29 as the province on Tuesday (May 9) announced few specifics on what has changed over the course of the year-and-a-half closure.
Old Town will have new contextual panels that will provide background and historical reference when it reopens, the province said. Those panels will “encourage critical thinking and ignite imagination, encouraging visitors to consider additional stories that could be shared.”
Elements of Old Town such as the garage, train station, hotel, saloon, parlour, kitchen, print shop and Chinatown have all been preserved as they were. Other spaces, like the drapery, have been emptied as the province said those spots will “create opportunities for visitors to reimagine the storefront with a new perspective.”
“Old Town is beloved by hundreds of thousands of visitors. I know people miss it, are passionate about it and want access to it,” Tourism Minister Lana Popham said in a Tuesday statement. “We have heard you.”
In a 2021 report on racism at RBCM, the museum apologized for its colonial history and the systemic racism inherent in that history. The report noted as a colonial institution, RBCM promoted the colonization of B.C. through its collections and exhibits.
The museum’s core human history exhibits were found to be outdated, with the report adding some were offensive.
“The whole Museum must be reimagined and decolonized to ensure that we do better as we work to earn back the confidence and trust of those who were made to feel unsafe, excluded, isolated, or unwanted,” the museum’s board of directors wrote in the report.
Old Town was shuttered in January 2022 as engagement started with communities to share a more comprehensive and diverse telling of B.C.’s story, and increase inclusivity at the museum. The province’s Tuesday release said the museum engaged with communities across B.C. since this January, with more than 1,300 residents participating in online and in-person dialogue sessions.
“We’re committed to increasing inclusivity and accessibility to the museum through extensive engagement and co-creation of exhibits with communities, and inviting people back into this space allows further opportunities to do that,” said RBCM CEO Alicia Dubois.
Instead of silent Hollywood films, the gallery’s Majestic Theatre will now present historical footage showcasing the diversity of B.C.’s voices and stories.
Several areas of the third floor will not be accessible to visitors. The First Peoples’ Gallery is closed as the space is being used to host engagement sessions with Indigenous communities, the province said.