Let­ters to the Ed­i­tor

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The Mar­itime Mu­seum of Bri­tish Columbia is leav­ing its old quar­ters and have asked me to com­mu­ni­cate some in­for­ma­tion about their sit­u­a­tion.

Over­view: The Mar­itime Mu­seum of BC has been op­er­ated by a non-profit so­ci­ety since 1957 and has been in the Bas­tion Square court­house since 1965. The Prov­ince as­sumed re­spon­si­bil­ity for pro­vid­ing a lo­ca­tion for the MMBC in 1977. The Mu­seum So­ci­ety has in turn op­er­ated the mu­seum to pre­serve and in­ter­pret the mar­itime her­itage of BC.


* MMBC traces its roots to a naval mu­seum es­tab­lished on DND property out­side the dock­yard in 1955. It was in­cor­po­rated un­der the BC So­ci­eties Act in 1957; * The Cana­dian Forces Base Esquimalt Naval and Mil­i­tary Mu­seum is a sep­a­rate or­ga­ni­za­tion op­er­ated by DND which opened in 1985; * The City of Vic­to­ria used the

for­mer court­house in Bas­tion Square in 1963-64 while City Hall on Dou­glas was be­ing ren­o­vated and en­larged. On com­ple­tion oc­cu­pancy was of­fered to the Mar­itime Mu­seum; * The Mu­seum moved into the court­house in 1965; * The City bought the court­house from the Prov­ince on May 4 1966 for $155,000; * In 1977 the Prov­ince agreed to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for pro­vid­ing a lo­ca­tion for the Mu­seum and to take over the court­house for $1. The Vic­to­ria City Coun­cil passed a res­o­lu­tion on Jan­uary 27, 1977 which de­fined its un­der­stand­ings of the im­pend­ing trans­fer. One of the clauses reads:

The Prov­ince as­sumes the re­spon­si­bil­ity for the lo­ca­tion of the Mar­itime Mu­seum whether in the Court­house build­ing or in an­other sit­u­a­tion.

* The City drafted an Agree­ment about the trans­fer. It in­cluded sev­eral con­di­tions; one con­cerns the Mu­seum So­ci­ety:

From the date of reg­is­tra­tion of the con­veyance of the said lands Her Majesty agrees to un­der­take re­spon­si­bil­ity for pro­vid­ing the So­ci­ety with suit­able premises for hous­ing of the Mu­seum col­lec­tion, ei­ther by per­mit­ting it to re­main in its present lo­ca­tion in the Build­ing, or by offering to the So­ci­ety other premises on such terms as may be agreed be­tween them.

* A re­port in the Vic­to­ria Colonist on Jan­uary 29, 1977 on the change of sta­tus re­flects how it was un­der­stood at the time:

New Lease on Life for the Mar­itime Mu­seum: Un­der Provin­cial Con­trol Af­ter hav­ing been a po­lit­i­cal foot­ball for years, Vic­to­ria’s Mar­itime Mu­seum has been given a new and ap­par­ently per­ma­nent lease on life. The city of Vic­to­ria and the provin­cial gov­ern­ment have reached an agree­ment which places the mu­seum un­der provin­cial con­trol. The agree­ment calls for trans­fer of the old court­house build­ing in Bas­tion Square, hous­ing the Mar­itime Mu­seum, from the city to the prov­ince for $ 1. The agree­ment also stares that the prov­ince would as­sume re­spon­si­bil­ity for the mu­seum, whether in the court­house or at an­other lo­ca­tion.

* Land ti­tle was changed to provin­cial own­er­ship un­der an Or­der in Coun­cil dated March 30, 1978; the ac­tual change of reg­is­tra­tion was on en­tered on July 11, 1978 * The Prov­ince took re­spon­si­bil­ity for rent and main­te­nance costs as well as pro­vid­ing op­er­at­ing grants; th­ese were funded un­der a “Provin­cial Re­source Mu­seum” line in the provin­cial bud­get for sev­eral years; * A 1985 “De­ci­sion Doc­u­ment” from the Min­istry of the Provin­cial Sec­re­tary and Gov­ern­ment Ser­vices de­scribed the sta­tus of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Prov­ince and the Mu­seum So­ci­ety:

Re­spon­si­bil­ity for pro­vid­ing rental and all main­te­nance costs for the build­ing in which the Mar­itime Mu­seum re­sides has been within Provin­cial Sec­re­tary for the past 7 years. … Un­der an agree­ment signed by the Provin­cial Sec­re­tary in 1977, un­der­took re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­vide suit­able hous­ing for this or­ga­ni­za­tion to house its col­lec­tion.

* The Provin­cial agency re­spon­si­ble for the court­house? the Mu­seum’s land­lord?has moved be­tween Min­istries over the years. It is cur­rently Shared Ser­vices which is part of the Min­istry of Tech­nol­ogy, In­no­va­tion and Cit­i­zens’ Ser­vices. (MTICS);

* Be­tween 2000 and 2003 The Min­istry of Com­mu­nity, Abo­rig­i­nal and Women’s Ser­vices paid the Mu­seum an an­nual direct grant to cover the cost of rent;

* Be­tween 2003 and 2007 the Mu­seum So­ci­ety was charged rent based on “mar­ket val­ues”. The Prov­ince pro­vided fund­ing to as­sist the So­ci­ety dur­ing a tran­si­tion pe­riod but the net rent of $ 75,000 even­tu­ally proved too high for the So­ci­ety;

* In 2011 the So­ci­ety ne­go­ti­ated a new rent for­mula based on a per­cent­age of earned rev­enue. The Prov­ince demon­strated good faith by ac­knowl­edg­ing that no rent was owed for past years;

* Shared Ser­vices told the Mu­seum in June 2014 that the court­house was no longer safe for the pub­lic and that ac­cess to visi­tors should cease in Oc­to­ber. Shared Ser­vices promised to help find a new lo­ca­tion. They helped iden­tify the un­fin­ished lower level of the for­mer CP Steamship Ter­mi­nal on the In­ner Har­bour as an op­tion and opened ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Greater Vic­to­ria Har­bour Author­ity which holds the “Head Lease” on this build­ing from the Provin­cial gov­ern­ment. As the space avail­able in the ter­mi­nal was smaller than the court­house Shared Ser­vices pro­vided a cli­mate-con­trolled space in the BC Sys­tems Build­ing at 4000 Sey­mour St. to store col­lec­tion items that would not be on dis­play.

* The Provin­cial gov­ern­ment of­fered to help with the pack­ing and move of the enor­mous col­lec­tion of arte­facts, doc­u­ment and pho­to­graphs in the Mu­seum.

* Once the Mu­seum closed in Oc­to­ber ad­mis­sions rev­enue ceased. Vol­un­teers were trained in pack­ing arte­facts and the move of the vast col­lec­tion be­gan. MTICS agreed in Jan­uary 2015 to pro­vide $10,000 monthly to pay core staff in­volved with pack­ing and mov­ing the col­lec­tion. The ne­go­ti­a­tions about the Steamship Ter­mi­nal were pro­longed. The Mu­seum So­ci­ety in­serted it­self in the process in Fe­bru­ary 2015, pro­duc­ing a mod­i­fied busi­ness plan.

* On June 5, 2015 MTICS an­nounced that ne­go­ti­a­tions had reached an im­passe and were ter­mi­nated. The an­nounce­ment went on to say that Shared Ser­vices would not able to pro­vide on­go­ing fi­nan­cial sup­port or fund im­prove­ments in the steamship ter­mi­nal. Shared Ser­vices was ready to as­sist the Mu­seum in any fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions for a new lo­ca­tion. How­ever, be­cause the Prov­ince has pro­vided a lo­ca­tion for the Mar­itime Mu­seum since 1977, this an­nounce­ment is dis­turb­ing.

Mu­seum So­ci­ety Fi­nances: The Mu­seum is debt free. Like many cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try the So­ci­ety is chal­lenged fi­nan­cially. No two mu­se­ums op­er­ate on the same model – for ex­am­ple, the Van­cou­ver Mar­itime Mu­seum, the Nanaimo Mu­seum and the Camp­bell River Mu­seum all have dif­fer­ing fund­ing sources. How­ever, broad com­par­isons can be made us­ing data avail­able on line on the CADAC (Cana­dian Arts Data) web­site. It tracks the fi­nances of 38 mu­se­ums across the coun­try with bud­gets roughly sim­i­lar to the MMBC’s. (this puts the RBCM, the Royal On­tario mu­seum etc. in a sep­a­rate cat­e­gory).

The most strik­ing dif­fer­ence be­tween MMBC and com­pa­ra­ble mu­se­ums is the per­cent­age of rev­enue which they gen­er­ate them­selves through ad­mis­sions, gift shop sales, fa­cil­ity rentals, fundrais­ing events and do­na­tions. The av­er­age mu­seum earns 30% of its rev­enue and re­ceives the bal­ance from gov­ern­ment grants (about 44%) and other sources. For MMBC the per­cent­ages are the op­po­site: it re­ceives roughly 30% of its rev­enue from gov­ern­ment and earns the re­main­ing 70%. In other words MMBC has to work harder than com­pa­ra­ble mu­se­ums to keep op­er­at­ing which squeezes funds avail­able for staff, new ex­hibits and main­tain­ing the rich col­lec­tion.

John MacFar­lane FRGS

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