When Garth Harvey and his cohorts first set to transforming the old community fire hall into the home of the Shawnigan Lake Museum in 1982, he said they’d be a “couple of peas rattling around in a pan”.
37 years later, the once small collection has grown, as have the number of volunteers and annual visitors. Executive Director, Lori Treloar, says it’s now a case of too many sardines crammed into a can.
That’s why plans are underway for a multi-faceted, one-million-dollar expansion of the building. Floor plans drawn up by James Kerr Architect, whom you might know for his collaborative work on Ts’i’ts’uwatul’Lelum in Duncan, have been approved in principle by the CVRD. The expansion will see the addition a Community Living Room, a Gift Shop, an Archive and Research Room, a dedicated E J Hughes Gallery featuring rare original works and public washrooms opening out to Elsie Miles Park.
Another key feature of the expansion plan is a community programming space, which will enable the Museum to host larger school groups. The addition of a small kitchen will open the possibility for community rentals, which could create a small revenue stream that would help support Museum programming. I’ll confess, as I pulled into the sleepy little village of Shawnigan on this sunny Saturday afternoon and found my parking spot, I was hit by the juxtaposition of Top 40 music blaring out of wireless Apple speakers at the neighbouring deck party and the utter time warp that met me when I entered through the museum’s historic front doors. I found myself wondering, in the information age with everything available at the click of a mouse, are museums still relevant?
Treloar, originally a teacher by trade, says that her 14 years with the Society has shown her that there will always be a space for interactive, hands-on experiences when it comes to sharing our history.
“I remember, we had a visitor who was delighted to stumble across an item in our collection that was similar to one her mother used many many years ago… in India,” Treloar recounts. “These shared aspects of our history draw us together; it’s a human experience that can’t be replicated on a computer screen.
“With fake news and misinformation flooding the internet, Treloar also believes history runs the risk of becoming distorted over time and Museums will play an even more vital role in preserving and passing on our history to future generations. Indeed, future generations are hungry for that history.
During my visit, I had the pleasure of meeting 8-year-old Declan, Treloar’s grandson and proclaimed “museum rat”, who eagerly ushered me in and out of rooms, chatting animatedly about his favourite collections.
Treloar is hoping to see the project on its way to completion by the end of 2020. With only a quarter of a million currently in the coffer, the Society will be launching themselves into the grant writing gauntlet in the coming months. Treloar says the Shawnigan Lake community is full of passionate individuals like Garth Harvey who not only contributed to the Museum financially over the years, but also served on the board until his passing at an astonishing 97 years of age.
As we wrapped up our visit, Treloar spoke of Prime Minister John A McDonald’s only trip to British Columbia during which he drove the final spike in the national sea-to-sea railway; a historical event that took place in Shawnigan Lake.
If the Society has its way, dignitaries will gather in this Cowichan community once again, only this time for the hammering of the final nail of the new and improved Shawnigan Lake Museum.
Alec Wheeler was raised in Sointula and traveled extensively overseas before returning to Vancouver Island and settling in Cowichan. She has a background in arts and culture and is passionate about sharing community stories.