A year after being forced to relocate from their home downtown, the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin is thinking forward.
Now happily settled into their new space at the Tourism Discovery Centre, the museum celebrated their grand opening on May 26, with several new and revamped exhibits in their expanded space both upstairs and downstairs.
“There is a lot more potential for the different narratives that we can communicate to different visitors,” said Joe Borsato, museum co-ordinator, adding that by visitors he means both tourists and locals.
“With that added space I think we are able to fit more of the community history in, which I think is very important.”
It’s a big, and ongoing job, and the space Borsato has to work with is still under renovations. They had hoped to host a grand opening last summer, but wildfires delayed their plans. Still, Borsato has already got ideas on what to do with the new wall space that will open up, and is enthusiastic about rotating exhibitions so the public has a chance to see what is hidden in the rows upon rows of museum archives on hand.
“With all the events the board and museum had to endure this past year, we’re very pleased with the outcome and the plan to move forward,” said Laura Zimmerman, director with the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin Society.
Parts of the new exhibit layout will be familiar to museum-goers. The BC Cowboy Heritage Hall of Fame is upstairs at the TDC, and Borsato has taken care to include stories and artifacts for each cowboy featured there, with plans for more photos to come.
Around the roots of the family tree downstairs is the First Nations exhibit.
“They are down at the roots for a reason,” said Borsato. “They are the roots of the community in many ways. Their history goes back at least 10,000 years and we need to represent that community — and it is extremely important for reconciliation.”
Expanding the Indigenous exhibits is an important goal for the museum, said Borsato, and he references back to the calls of action put out by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
“Reconciliation is one of the most important issues of modern Canada.”
He is also currently in the early stages of developing an exhibit on the St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School, and recently finished a consultation with the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council for an education outreach kit to be used in the schools.
The museum also showcases local industry, science and technology, and different settler groups’ experiences arriving in the Cariboo Chilcotin.
“The point of the museum is to provide context for these communities — not necessarily where they came from but what the experience of the members of these communities have been in the Cariboo Chilcotin.
“We’ve got the exhibits on some of the non Euro-Canadian settlers and we are working to expand that. With settlement comes infrastructure and science and technology, medicine, these exhibits are important for helping us understand how long and how varied the experiences of so many people have been here.”
Read more: Museum move underway
Borsato credits his three summer students, Jayden Boxeur, Zach Abel and Sophia Wong, for doing the majority of the work in setting up the new exhibits.
“We would not have been able to do this without the help of our three summer students. They’ve made a great team and we’ve really been able to showcase the community with their help,” he said.
About a quarter of all the museum’s collection is now estimated to be on display.
“Doing all these new exhibits has been really satisfying — looking through heirlooms and memorabilia,” he said. “Look at how many different kinds of syringes they used in the hospital, look how many baskets that were used in just the Chilcotin as opposed to the Shuswap or Carrier. It’s been interesting to dig into that and find all sorts of things we didn’t know we had,” said Borsato.
In its new location, Borsato said they see more visitors than they had downtown, which also leads to an obligation to tell local narratives with a broader audience in mind, and with more rigor than in the past, he said.
“You answer people’s subliminal questions — like what is this community and how does it fit into a broader provincial, national or international context? We try to guide our exhibits in a way that makes sense to someone who may have just driven up from Vancouver or the states or somewhere else, so that it makes sense.”
Borsato is also hoping to bring the museum’s collection management system up to date by transferring the records of what they have to a digitized system to make it easier to create new displays and narratives from their archives.
When he started a little over a year ago, Borsato said he never expected there to be so much to do.
“There still is,” he said. “It’s been fun. The challenges have been daunting in a lot of ways, but I am looking forward to seeing the collection well-catalogued and well-archived because we have to preserve the community’s heritage. That is what we are here for and it is what we will continue to do.”
In the meantime, he invites the community to take a wander through the new exhibits.
“People who are passing through or people who have lived here for a long time, they ask all sorts of questions whether implicitly and explicitly when they enter a museum, and our goal is to make sure that we answer many of these questions.”