May 20, 2005 Features & Images » Feature Story

That’s not a soup bowl, it’s a chamber pot! 

Community museums, industry museums, just go see ’em

If pressed, I could probably build a reasonably well-assembled wooden barrel. While I doubt there will ever be occasion that I will be called upon to demonstrate this particular skill, it is something I never would have learned had the twin provincial and federal centennials not occurred in my formative years. Because of those two historical milestones, museums – particularly those ones focusing on local history that had national import – were well funded and therefore well promoted.

Under the Trudeau Liberals creating a means to foster identity to further distinguish us from Americans meant giving Canadians a sense of our rich cultural heritage. My understanding of barrel making, learned at the Fort Langley Museum, was a result of that commitment. The combination of preserved buildings, a connection with the explorer Simon Fraser and the fort’s history as a Hudson’s Bay trading post, made the location ideal for fulfillment of the federal and provincial mandates.

The idea that true understanding comes from experience was a philosophy behind the activities that constituted the 1970s museum visit. The hands on experience, which often featured college theatre school students in period costume, meant the museum took on an "attraction" type status for kids, while the performances provided the parents with as close to an authentic historical experience as the museum’s insurance would allow. Aspiring actors had meaningful summer employment, kids were fascinated and the adult taxpayer came away with the feeling that maybe – just maybe – investing in museums was an endeavour worthy of their tax dollars.

I have been to community and industrial museums throughout the Lower Mainland, from Chilliwack to West Vancouver. And I can probably provide adequate directions to a number of Vancouver Island and BC Interior temples to the muses.

This is the result of having had a typical 1970s aspiration-class childhood. My parents were not raised in families where cultural activity was either prized or indulged in. However, my mother had a keen interest in history cultivated by the UBC correspondence courses she took to keep her intellect from complete atrophy due to the sustained interaction with small children.

I am sure that my father would have been happy to make Stanley Park our weekly family destination, but my mother insisted that museum visits appeared frequently on the Sunday outing agenda. Not art museums. No, those were obviously for people other than us – you know, those people with time for art. No, we, and I assumed other people like us, visited good, solid natural history museums. Places where we would learn our history and perhaps, after looking at archaic devices for domestic and farm chores, come away with an appreciation for just how damned lucky we were.

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