Province has ‘obligation’ to provide maritime museum with home

Museum board says the province isn't supposed to assist the museum in finding a new home, but it obligated to provide another location.

The ball is in the province’s court to find a new home for the Maritime Museum of B.C., after the museum released an agreement signed 38 years ago claiming the province has an obligation to do so.

Last Friday, members of the Maritime Museum of B.C. Society Board revealed an agreement that transferred ownership of the museum from the City of Victoria to the province for $1 back in 1977.

As part of the agreement, the province is obligated 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.”

The document was signed by then provincial secretary Grace McCarthy and Victoria mayor Michael Young, however, the museum does not have a signed copy of it. They will file applications with the city to find it in the coming days.

Keith Reed, a long-time member and past president of the board, said recently there has been a “misunderstanding” between the museum and the province.

“The province is a principal player. It has that status because it took title of the Bastion Square premise. What was taking place was a realization and understand that the Maritime Museum of B.C. was fulfilling a role that was broader than the narrow of being municipal cultural organization, it’s a provincial cultural organization,” he said.

Reed noted that the province isn’t supposed to assist the museum in finding a new home, but it obligated to provide another location.

But the province doesn’t agree.

According to a statement provided by the Ministry of Technology, Innovation and Cultural Services, the ministry has “received a legal opinion determining that this document does not obligate the province to provide housing in perpetuity for the museum operations or provide continued funding for its operations.”

The museum is currently in the process of moving thousands of items from their location in Bastion Square to a storage space on Seymour Street, since the province asked them to vacate the facility by Sept. 30.

Early this month, the province announced negotiations between the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and the Maritime Museum of B.C. were at an impasse, sending board members scrambling to find a new home for the more than 35,000-artifact collection.