New Westminster, the oldest city in western Canada, has much to offer the history buff. Yet our overstuffed museums struggle along piecemeal, cramming 150 years into nooks and crannies around the city. It does not do justice to the stories this city has to share. The New Westminster Museum is an artifact in itself yet the vast majority of the collection is not available for casual inspection. The cramped but fantastic Royal Westminster Regimental Museum screams for more space – but it is never open anyway, so no one knows it is there.
And then there is the Samson V. She is a visible icon of our not-too-distant past, a beautiful example of machinery and engineering and a unique attraction for our city. Operated by the Royal Agricultural and Industrial Society of B.C., the Samson V museum ship operates on a shoestring budget and a lot of volunteer love, tied up to pilings next to the boardwalk at the New Westminster Quay. The city recently announced over $200,000 in funding for urgent repairs to the hull of the wooden sternwheeler so she could stay afloat, but should the grizzled old ship really remain bereft on the river, exposed to the elements?
Contrast poor Samson to the St. Roch exhibit in Vancouver. The St. Roch is the centerpiece of a larger museum project. It is the kind of meaningful attraction that has staying power and really adds value to a community. Yet the Vancouver Maritime Museum too is bursting at the seams and in need of a rebuild or a new home.
Imagine the Samson V, the Regimental Museum, the Fraser River Discovery Center and the New Westminster Museum enfolded into one installation, all housed in a single complex attracting regional, national and international visitors. This would be a Museum of New Westminster that would be worthy of notice, a place to celebrate the birth of our province and the people who built it.
With the Maritime Museum and the St Roch needing a new Home, a truly meaningful museum complex could be just what New Westminster needs. Haul the Samson V out of the river and give it a home with the St. Roch in a new facility, built between the river and the Columbia Street parkade!
The B.C. Museum in Victoria seems to leave out so much of the mainland story of the beginnings of this province, but a new federal, civic, and provincial joint project could really show it off. New Westminster is the first capitol of this province and its story as a city is at the heart of the history of British Columbia. This is the place to showcase our city, our province and our society. And the Samson V.