COLUMN: It’s time: Coquitlam needs its own museum
The following opinion piece was submitted by the board of the Coquitlam Heritage Society. The board members are: Hazel Postma (chair), John Perry (vice-chair), Pat Cooper, Don Cunnings, Darla Furlani, Rhian Piprell, Richard Rainey, Anna Tremere and Chris Worsley.
The BC Museums Association counts 191 museums among its members. Some are heritage homes like Coquitlam’s Mackin House Museum. Proper name notwithstanding, however, Mackin House is not a museum.
Mackin House is a heritage home and while the building is a splendid asset, it is not a suitable space for a museum.
A museum implies display space and exhibits; it offers the place and protection for an eclectic range of artifacts that represent a community’s history. Heritage houses are interpretative houses that are staged with artifacts to reflect a snapshot in time.
With the closure of the Riverview Museum, Coquitlam became acutely aware of the need for a comprehensive museum. The Riverview artifacts are now in storage — they have been “saved” but, sadly, they are of no particular use to us if they are tucked away. Artifacts are valuable for what they tell us and teach us so they are, arguably, worthless unless they are accessed, displayed and contextualized.
Is Coquitlam ready for a museum? Do we need one? Do we have the requisite “stuff” to fill one?
Readiness implies a collective energy and desire to make it happen. It was a visit to the Surrey Museum that focused the will of the Coquitlam Heritage Society on the goal of building a museum here. Surrey is a stunning example of what a community mobilizing its resources and working with all governments and stakeholders can do.
And it is not just larger communities that have succeeded in their quest for a museum. Creston (population 5,000) has a beautiful small museum and offers a wide range of programs. The museum in Princeton (population 12,131) received the makeover of a lifetime in 2011 when it doubled its square footage. Powell River (regional population 35,000) has a constellation of museums and heritage buildings that tell its rich history.
But Coquitlam (population 126,000) is a community with a range of historical assets and artifacts that are essentially homeless. Some of these artifacts are in basements, in churches, in storage or at Mackin House.
When Surrey planned for its museum, it spent a number of years collecting and consolidating in advance. When its doors opened, the museum was replete with significant artifacts of solid historical and interpretative value.
Coquitlam could do this. We know that the essential ingredients are there for us.
Coquitlam Heritage Society has been working behind the scenes to secure space for a museum. Recently, we proposed to city council that the Innovation Centre (located at Pinetree and Guildford ways, next to the Evergreen Cultural Centre, and now dedicated to office space for city employees) be converted to museum space. The cost would be small, but the payback would be large. The proposal is available on our website at www.coquitlamheritage.ca. Another possibility is a purpose-built area as part of the Beedie Group’s development of the Fraser Mills site.
There are other options that could be explored. A dual-purpose museum and Francophone community centre located in the heart of historic Maillardville might make sense. It would honour this unique and founding part of our heritage and also be a cultural investment opportunity that would appeal to all levels of government. The attraction of re-purposing a building on the Riverview site is compelling. East Lawn comes to mind.
There is a case to be made, though, for thinking smaller. Secure a small store-front or corner of an existing building and start with modest display space as we plan for a secure future. This could be accomplished with a temporary location that would give the society the time to consolidate the artifacts and begin the careful planning for a permanent home. This is perhaps the most realistic and achievable plan of all.
Coquitlam Heritage Society is not short on ideas but we can’t move forward without support from our community. It is time. Coquitlam residents deserve to have their heritage preserved in a dedicated and sustainable way.
We need a museum.