Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The many, many reasons for building a new museum in Maple Ridge

Come what may, history happens. There is no stopping time’s passing. And within the framework of time we the thinking species have gone about our business on this planet leaving behind a trail of events which we refer to as history. As far back as the earliest cave paintings Man has understood the need to record his activities, celebrate the events of the day and to preserve the community memory for future generations.

Not a moment passes when we are not a part of history, yet ask a school child what subject they least enjoy at school and it is a safe bet that ‘history’ will be high on the list. Better yet ask an adult when they last visited the museum: “Oh, do we have a museum in Maple Ridge?” is a common response. The reason perhaps is that museums are often thought of as being found in the large and important cities around the world. In Canada we are fortunate in that so many of our small provincial towns boast a local museum. In 1956 community leader George Mussallem recognized that Maple Ridge would one day become a much larger town and that it was important to archive the town’s earliest beginnings. So was born the Maple Ridge Historical Society and subsequently the Maple Ridge Museum was established.

Now in 2007 the Maple Ridge Historical Society is behind a drive to build a new facility that will act as a museum and archive designed to preserve and display our town’s past. At a recent workshop held by the Society participants were asked to list the benefits that a new museum may bring to our community. It soon became evident that the benefits we can expect extend far beyond the fundamental understanding of a museum which is to preserve and display. A little brainstorming brought interesting results.

Intellectual Benefits The need understand to our past through research, collections and increased knowledge; the benefit is knowledge. Spiritual Benefits The need to connect with our past is within us all; the benefit is well-being and the sense that we belong. Physical Benefits When we see a museum building from the outside we may feel comforted or drawn to enter. Then when we step into the building all our senses alert us to the promise of a tactile pathway back to our origins. The benefit is to touch the past with one’s hands as well as one’s eyes, ears and sense of smell.

Demographic Benefits We are not who we once were. Our median age groups change proportionately in a continuous urban dance; we grow in numbers. And as we grow as community we need more cultural activities to stimulate the young and strengthen the aged, and to encourage young families in understanding values of our heritage. Psychographic Benefits Our attitude toward all aspects of life in our community is constantly under review and change. Our base values remain largely embedded, but subtle changes in how we think leads ultimately to universal changes. One day we are urban sprawlers; the next day, ardent gatekeepers of our environment.

Tangible Economics The direct economic benefits of a fully operational museum in a City or District hosting less than 100,000 is probably questionable. In our instinctive quest for the bottom line and return on investment one may have to look further abroad than the institution’s annual financial statements. That is not to say that creative and innovative solutions cannot be implemented which could give rise to a more than break - even and steadily improving, year-over-year finale to each year’s annual report.

Intangible Economics Often it is the intangible benefits that are most tangible of all. Cultural Benefits Notwithstanding the many slights we receive from time to time Maple Ridge has a strong and fast growing cultural community. Attendance at our ACT theatre attests to the fact that we are home to a theatre-hungry and culturally savvy community. Our street festivals draw crowds from all over the valley each year. Tax payers support (for the most part) all the culturally diverse programs and projects that have come their way. The museum expansion will be questioned along the way as to the cost. The truth is that ‘culture costs.’

Core Regeneration In the case of this particular building and its specific location its significance is amplified by the fact that its presence will first create excitement within its immediate location and doubtless catalyze further much-needed development within its environs. Beautification For some years now the District of Maple Ridge has contemplated, and in many cases, acted out the wishes of the downtown community to make our town more beautiful. In 2006 and 2007 the District restated its intention to continue with the beautification of the downtown area through the careful placing of not only such things as flower baskets and banners and perhaps even street art, but more fundamental elements such as adding cross walks and additional traffic lights as well as reconfiguring parking and other street calming techniques. A major benefit of the museum is that it demonstrates the District’s willingness and dedication to make the town centre not simply livable, but desirable.

Walk Maple Ridge The benefits of a healthy walk are well-documented as a path to longevity and happiness. Politicians and staff in Maple Ridge, encouraged by local activists and enthusiasts, have made great headway in creating and promoting opportunities in the District at large. Closer to the centre of town and located near the waterfront a walker will find many pleasant walks during every season. The museum expansion will provide a destination of interest as well as stop for a cup of tea or simply a place to rest along the heritage walk, or perhaps meet a friend.

The regeneration of Haney began when the District restored the sidewalks and our road surfaces on North Street. The work included subtle design changes which would themselves conjure up the notion of ‘we are living in a better place’. What might any of this have to do with the new museum expansion?

Before long 18 townhouses appeared on 225th street, one of the most neglected streets in the downtown area. Suddenly there were other signs of restoration appearing in the area. There is now momentum. The appearance of a construction crew on the museum site would accelerate the rate of regeneration in Haney – a clear benefit.

Haney developments Most of the old buildings of significant heritage importance are gone from the streetscapes of Haney. A small gaggle of low end developments have occurred over the past two decades. Architecturally speaking they are neither here and most certainly not there, when it comes to responsible development of the downtown. An extremely important benefit of the museum expansion is that it will reverse the downward trend of the neighbourhood and encourage hard dollar benefits which will be directly attributed to its presence.

Connecting with the Fraser River Historically 224th Street has always been the main thoroughfare to the Port Town Centre Haney Wharf. Over the years the connection was lost for a variety of reasons. The construction of the Haney Bypass in the 1980s was the last nail in the coffin for old Haney. A review of the downtown centre through the SmartGrowth on the Ground process in 2004 and 2005 alighted almost instantly on the idea that 224th Street was and continues to be the ‘spine’ that connects the downtown to the waterfront. As a spine 224th street has been woefully short in the vertebrae department; that is changing rapidly. A significant benefit of the museum expansion is that it will accelerate and make permanent the town to river connection, eventually making it one of the most pedestrian traveled routes in Maple Ridge.

Enhancing Public Safety Improve street lighting in the immediate vicinity; better sidewalks in the immediate vicinity; more eyes on the street are just some of public safety spin-offs we can expect to see when the new museum is completed. The museum adds to safety and security as it overlooks the Heritage Walk lane from 224th to 225th and as a bonus will make 224th Street a safer place for commuters who regularly walk through the pedestrian tunnel that connects the West Coast Express Station on River Road to 224th Street.

Claus Andrup, June 2007, Haney

(Claus Andrup is current Vice President of the Maple Ridge Historical Society)

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