Issue 282: Maintaining Momentum

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The Museum of North Vancouver: Not Another COVID Casualty

By Sandra Thomas, Freelance Writer

When a new museum is decades in the making, there’s a lot to consider. In the case of MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver, those forty-plus years included a multitude of meaningful discussions with community members and Indigenous leaders, painstaking research to amass a collection of more than 9000 artifacts, and the undertaking to secure the ideal location — the historic Shipyards District of North Vancouver.

But in 2020, just when it looked as though the stars had finally aligned and construction of the new 16,000-square-foot museum was coming together enough to start considering dates for a public opening, COVID-19 reached a point of global crisis, bringing most of the world to an abrupt halt.

After Streetcar No. 153 was sold for scrap in 1946, it was at one point used as a chicken coop. The streetcar was discovered in a farmer’s field in the 1980s, restored and now sits in the lobby of MONOVA. Photo: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver

MONOVA director Wes Wenhardt says COVID-19 safety protocols were immediately introduced at the museum’s construction site and most meetings were moved online. “But I’ve done several of these projects and know you can’t build things remotely, you have to be on-site,” says Wenhardt. “If there’s a problem, people need to be in the same room to look at it and focus, and you can’t do that via email.”

Ironically, Wenhardt had to overcome his own challenges at the same time. A serious trail running injury resulted in him spending months in a wheelchair. “That happened Sunday, but on Monday, Laurel Lawry [Business Operations] and I had to present our revised business plan to City Council,” Wenhardt says of that online meeting. “I put a tie on, but no one knew I was in a wheelchair.”

An Indigenous welcome circle showcasing Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations artefacts at the entrance to MONOVA. Photo: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver.

The Twin Sister cedar wall panel, carved by Indigenous artist Wade Baker, signifies the extensive collaboration between MONOVA staff and the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations. Photo: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver

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Despite the challenges COVID-19 brought, the new museum opened to the public on December 4, 2021. Wenhardt notes the project could never have come together as it did without the hard work of staff and volunteers, private and public partnerships, assistance from both the City and District of North Vancouver, and more.

Dee Dhaliwal, chair of the North Vancouver Museum and Archives Commission, agrees. “The amazing work it took in the past year to open the museum has to be put into context of the decades of hard work it took of the different people who handed the baton to those running the final leg,” says Dhaliwal. She adds that while Covid was an added challenge, it wasn’t insurmountable. “It wasn’t ideal, but everyone was focused on trying to get this to be as inspiring a space as possible. Everything about its design just energized the group, and Covid wasn’t going to stop that.”

An interactive exhibit celebrating the history of the marine and shipping industries in North Vancouver. Photo: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver

This exhibit at the Museum of North Vancouver is dedicated to the area’s vital North Shore Rescue team. Photo: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver

Dhaliwal and Wenhardt concur the final phase of the project is a vital one: the completion of the temporary gallery, which will be key in helping the museum tell more stories of the North Shore. Wenhardt hopes the new gallery will draw even more residents and visitors to the museum, “We don’t want to be a community centre, we want to be the centre of the community.”

There was much to celebrate on opening day of MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver, Dec. 4, 2021. (Dee Dhaliwal can be seen to the left in red. Wes Wenhardt is fifth from the right.) Photo: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver