The Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin celebrates its 25th anniversary this Sunday with a Heritage Festival taking place at the museum and at Boitanio Park.
Thirty years ago, when a newly formed non-profit group took on the job of turning the former Health Unit into a museum, the collection included maybe two dozen artifacts, five display cases, no money whatsoever, just the daunting task of raising $60,000 to renovate the building so the city could issue an occupation permit.
Lots of water under the bridge since then. Most of the original volunteers are gone now. Some have died, some have moved away or retired, whatever. There isn’t space here to list them all, but so many of them went beyond the call of duty, spending hours doing everything from cleaning the washrooms to creating displays, from minding the office to conducting tours, and endless fund raising.
Some things haven’t changed. There still isn’t enough secure funding to run the place properly. Thanks to generous donations, the museum has over 8,000 artifacts, an extensive resource centre, and a humongous number of photos and negatives, but a lot of items are in storage because there isn’t an inch of display space available. There is now a qualified executive director/curator, but there is no money to hire an assistant to free him from the office jobs (e.g. receptionist). It’s a one man show. Most museums this size are owned by local governments and even those that aren’t have enough money to hire adequate staff.
I was always flummoxed by the lack of interest from the CRD. Apparently some directors believe it’s a “city” museum. It isn’t. The city contributes the lion’s share of support (building, utilities, maintenance and some money). CRD residents have donated the lion’s share of the collection and have always been well represented on the museum board, but not much direct CRD support.
In recent years there have been suggestions that the ranching/rodeo theme is passe. The western focus was originally suggested by outside professionals who said the Cariboo Chilcotin’s history is unique, and a western themed museum would be equally unique. The Cowboy Hall of Fame came later.
Diana French is a freelance columnist for the Tribune. She is a former Tribune editor, retired teacher, historian, and book author.