Royal BC Museum Slated for Almost $1 Billion Overhaul
The Royal BC Museum in Victoria will receive a major overhaul under a new proposal by the government of British Columbia. On May 13, premier John Horgan announced
a $789 million grant to completely rebuild the complex at its current site by 2030. The project – the most expensive museum in Canadian history – has drawn fierce criticism, yet proponents argue that the redevelopment isn’t just a practical necessity – it’s a moral one.
The provincial government contends that the project is long overdue
. The museum is one of British Columbia’s most popular attractions, drawing almost a million visitors a year before the pandemic. However, the current buildings, which date to 1968, have been deemed seismically unsafe and inadequate by modern conservation standards. The government has already made plans to move the BC Provincial Archives, previously housed in the museum, to a new, $224 million building outside Victoria due to the risk of flooding at the current site.
Practical concerns aside, project leaders also see an opportunity to build a more inclusive museum in the spirit of Indigenous reconciliation. Tourism minister Melanie Mark said the new museum will take the “diverse stories of British Columbians and Indigenous peoples out of the shadows and into the light”. Indigenous activists have long insisted that museums recognize the colonialist intent of their collections, and make museum spaces more welcoming to Indigenous visitors and other minority groups.
The Royal BC Museum is considered a leader in this space, and has already undergone several major changes in recent years. In 2021, the museum released a “Report to British Columbians
” apologizing for the institution’s colonial history and announcing a new curatorial policy that elevates Indigenous voices and prioritizes object repatriations.
Last semester, Canadian Studies hosted a discussion with two of the Indigenous cultural experts at the forefront of efforts to “decolonize” the collection. Lou-Ann Neel helped develop the museum’s Indigenous Repatriation Handbook
, and overseas efforts to return cultural goods to their tribes of origin. Meanwhile, Michelle Washington has spearheaded plans for a “living museum” that includes present-day Indigenous societies. Thanks to efforts like theirs, the new museum will include Indigenous ceremonial and cultural spaces, where sacred and ritual objects can be used for their intended purpose.
The museum has already begun dismantling exhibits deemed to promote colonialism, beginning with its historical collections and widely-criticized exhibits on Indigenous societies in the province. In January, it also permanently closed the “Becoming B.C.” exhibit, which centered on interactive, walk-through sets showing life in a 19th-century BC town. The exhibit’s narrative was argued to privilege the history of European settlers over other groups. The exhibit will eventually be replaced by one that covers the diversity of BC’s many Native and immigrant inhabitants.
The museum is slated to close in September, and will remain shut for most of the next decade, with a projected completion date of 2030 at the earliest. However, the museum will continue to stage travelling exhibitions from its permanent collection.