The expansion of the Shawnigan Lake Museum
A museum is not just about the past. It is as much about informing the future.
The Shawnigan Lake Historical Society is a not-for-profit, charitable organization established by volunteers, in 1977, to protect and promote the history of Shawnigan Lake and surrounding area. This dedicated group immediately began collecting artifacts and archival material that represented the stories of the area. They also took workshops and museum related courses to prepare themselves for the day that they would open a museum.
In 1983, opportunity knocked. The volunteer firemen had outgrown their fire hall in the village and built a new one down the road. The historical society took over the redundant building with enthusiasm. Garth Harvey, who helped to shape the old fire hall into a museum, said that, “For a while, we will rattle around like a few peas in a saucepan.” Thirty-three years later the Shawnigan Lake Museum is still in the same building (now on the CVRD Heritage Registry) and “packed like sardines” would be a more apt description.
After decades of donations of artifacts, and archival material from the Shawnigan community, and nearby communities in the region, we have outgrown the space. This hampers our ability to provide the programming and service to the community that we feel is part of our mandate.
We are proposing an expansion to the museum that adds a new building of roughly 3200 square feet connected to the current building. There would be two access points from the new space through to the old – one to access the current display gallery and one to access the archives and research room.
This project will offer many benefits to the community, and region as a whole, which include two public washroom for the village that will be integrated into the new space; a new courtyard/plaza space that would serve as a welcoming access to Elsie Miles Park; a new entrance to the museum that would allow visitors and groups to assemble safely, and under shelter, rather than gather on the road allowance; space to adequately offer regular school programming; space to engage visitors through community outreach with events and speakers; an increased gift shop area to attract visitors; more volunteer and summer student opportunities; a much needed transfusion of energy for the Village of Shawnigan Lake, and a museum that will flourish as a heritage attraction/destination.
Our need for more space at the museum is not so much about a need for additional display space. It is more about having the space to expand our service to the community. One of the fundamental objectives of any museum is to educate:
- Museums possess the resource materials to enrich and improve the school curriculum which should be integrated into the education system. We have had many school groups visit the Shawnigan Lake Museum, but it is difficult in our cramped space to accommodate a class of twenty to thirty students; the teachers; the parents and the volunteers that are necessary to ensure a rewarding experience. We also have visits from local pre-school groups.
- We have also had many group visits from Seniors’ groups; residents from care homes and organized bus tours. Currently, there is no space to gather groups of children or adults, inside or outside, let alone space to accommodate several visitors in wheelchairs or using walkers.
Another objective of a museum is to provide an attraction that draws people to the area:
- Heritage and tourism go hand in hand. Research shows that Heritage Tourism is an integral part of successful tourism and therefore contributes greatly to the economic benefits of an area.
- According to research, travellers are seeking out experiences that that are distinct and authentic, and they prefer trips that will teach them something new.
- The Shawnigan Lake Museum is at the gateway to the Cowichan Valley and attracts people from far and wide. Our visitor book indicates that, at this point, 29% of our visitors are from the Shawnigan area; 40% are from the Cowichan Valley and the rest of Vancouver Island; 17% from other parts of Canada and 13% from around the world. In addition, our website stats indicate that we are getting hits from all over the world – the number one query is Kinsol Trestle. The museum is in a position to service the increasing number of visitors to the Kinsol Trestle, most of whom access it through Shawnigan Lake. We currently have two scale models of the trestle (one is 12 feet long) and several video presentations that are available for people who want more information.
Recap: our new space will include:
- A large activity room
A large room will serve two main purposes – a) space to accommodate large groups for school programming, workshops, visits from rest homes and special interest groups and b) create space for temporary/moveable displays when the space is not used for group visits.
- A larger gift shop
An increased Gift Shop area will have a three-fold benefit. It will provide revenue for the ongoing programs at the museum, create a venue for the wares of local artisans, and offer a shopping opportunity for visitors to the community.
- A larger, more secure, E.J. Hughes Gallery
One of the unique assets of the Shawnigan Lake Museum is its collection of original E.J. Hughes art pieces. In addition, we have several pieces of furniture from his house. This collection has been donated to the museum because of Hughes’ love of Shawnigan. The collection has outgrown its dedicated gallery space. Our project will create a larger gallery to accommodate this one-of-a-kind collection. His original works are seldom found anywhere in public spaces –they are housed in large, or national, art galleries or in private collections. This gallery is, and will be, a major attraction for the region, especially once it is relocated in an appropriate space.
- A public washroom
A non-generic, family washroom for the public that is wheelchair accessible will be incorporated into the new building and be accessible only from the outside, in Elsie Miles Park. Currently, there are no public washrooms in the Village, and few businesses that allow the public to use their facilities. This is difficult for visitors to the area. The inclusion of the washroom will save money, and space in the park, as we will not need a stand-alone washroom building. Ideally, we would take the opportunity to hook our new, and existing space, into the existing septic system at the Shawnigan Lake Community Centre. The museum will have its own washrooms inside the new building.
- A separate archives and research area
Currently, the limited office space is very inefficient as it is a multi-purpose room by necessity. It is he archives storage area, the processing area, the meeting area and the office area. This project will separate the office from the archives, leaving the space to be more user friendly for researchers etc. The archival collection will be able to expand and be located in a more secure room within the existing building.
- A beautiful outdoor gathering space
Part of the vision of the project is to re-work the outdoor space to the west of the new building into a welcoming plaza for residents and visitors. The concept is to brick over the area that was once Centennial Park (1958) and provide seating and landscaping that encourages people to gather in the park. This will be accessed from the Village and the lake. In addition, there will be access from the museum building for events etc.
- A larger storage area
Due to the limits of the current building, there is no storage. Although we have a metal storage box on the property, it is full to the brim, making it hard to access the collection without emptying it. Ideally, our project will provide us with a storage area.
- A small kitchen area
This addition will provide us with the ability to provide refreshments for groups/workshops/events as well as integrate food activities into some of the school programming.
Our purpose is to open our doors more widely, both figuratively and literally, to the public and invite people to engage in our shared experience. We have shown our commitment to this purpose through our almost forty years of service in the area.
Thank you for your support for our project.
So far the project has raised close to $350, 000.
If you wish to contribute, please click here to go to the "How to Help" page.