It’s easy to wander through the Pioneer Museum, express surprise at some artifact and exclaim: “I remember that. My mother (and sometimes, ‘I’) used one every day. It brings back so many memories.” …And yet not really think about how all this came to be.
It all started shortly after Metchosin incorporated in 1984.
In 1986 Council established the Heritage Cultural Reserve Fund, endowed it with $30,000, the interest of which would go to the Heritage Cultural Trust Fund. This Fund would eventually help finance some, but by no means all, of the many improvements that would have to be made to create the museum.
That same year, 1986, the District purchased from James and Anne Greenwood. the property on which the museum sits. On this property were apparently two structures. One was a rabbit barn, described by Mrs. Greenwood as being in terrible shape, very run-down and beyond repair. It was used for practice by the Metchosin Volunteer Fire Department and was, in due course, burned down. The second structure was a barn that housed the Greenwood family horse and after purchase of the property, the barn was used by the Metchosin Equestrian Society.
On March 19, 1990, at a regular meeting of the Metchosin Council, Daisy Bligh and Mac Page, on behalf of the Metchosin School Museum Society, read a letter to Council “…requesting use of the barn on the municipal grounds for the preservation of historical artifacts and equipment.” Council approved the request moving that “…Council gives permission to the Society for use of the barn subject to discussion results between Alderman Pemberton-Billing and Mrs. Paget of the Equestrian Society.” By June 16, a letter of understanding had been prepared between the District and the Equestrian Society, and the Metchosin School Museum Society took overuse of the barn. In August, a five-year renewable lease was being prepared between the District and the Society and at the same time, the Society had acquired Building Permits to begin the long process of renovation and repurposing the barn into a museum.
The Minutes of the meetings of the School Museum Society give a good recording of the renovation program.
At the May 30, 1990, Annual General Meeting of the School Museum Society, President Ron Bradley reported that:
“…the barn on the municipal grounds… is to be used as a museum for farm machinery and rural artifacts removed from the crowded School Museum. This to be administered by a Barn Committee of 3 people, Mac Page, John Bligh and Bill Eminson. This in turn (sic) under the auspices of the Museum Society. Funds for the restoration and running of this Barn Museum for the time being at the discretion of the auditor and the Secretary-Treasurer.
“A lot of work has already been done to clean up the barn and great plans are being made re funds for it and the maintenance thereof. Inmates from Wilkinson Road are to be used in some of the heavy work. Many people has already donated many hours to helping clear and renovating, namely. Wilf Whitfield, Chuck Cowell, Ed Ludvigson, George Triplett, Guy Ferris, Richard Poulin, Jim Whitfield, Jamie Cowell, Tom Gibson, Fern Poulin, Morris Brotherstone and others.”
And again, in 1990, when Council awarded Volunteer Group of the Year to John Bligh and the Metchosin School Museum Barn Committee:
“This year’s Volunteer Group award recipient is the Metchosin School Museum’s Barn Committee headed by John Bligh and assisted by Bill Eminson and Mac Page. The need for a place to display pioneer farming equipment was fulfilled with the lease of the barn from the municipality in 1990. John Bligh with his amazing crew of volunteers set out to change the old into a farm museum. The barn had previously been used to stable very short horses and had a plank floor. The barn was only seven feet high with a loft above. The Barn committee set out to lower the floor one foot so today we see an eight foot ceiling with a beautiful cement floor after many months of work by John and his volunteers. The Metchosin Fire Dept. washed down the walls so the volunteers could line them. After than the group added the lean-to that gives the a more balanced appearance and has served this summer to to shelter the Metchosin Farm. This year they added outside steps down from the loft and put in electricity including poles their very own meter. They continue their policy of cooperation with other user groups with the of a multibreaker for the Metchosin Equestrian Society so they can use the electricity too.”
Minutes of the meetings of the School Museum Society provide a continuing record of renovations throughout 1990, into 1991, into 1992, into 1993. And all of this work being done by a dedicated group of volunteers, notably Mac Page, Bill Eminson, Hans Helgesen and others mentioned above. But special note has to be made of John and Daisy Bligh who did so much in getting the museum established, organizing, doing the hard work, and paying many bills out of their own pockets. In the fall of 1990:
“…work has progressed steadily on the Barn Museum…under the direction of work foreman and vice-chairman John Bligh. All labour up to now has been volunteer except the Bob-cat operator employed to excavate the floor.”
At the Society’s 1991 AGM, the decision was made to officially name the work in progress the “Agricultural Pioneer Museum,” later to become simply the Metchosin Pioneer Museum. It was a work in progress because renovating still continued. In 1991, the “lean-to addition” was undertaken and completed by Christmas of that year and described in a report to the Society in January 1992 as a
“…very useful addition to the barn resulted greatly enhancing the appearance of the building. If committee approves I propose that a picket fence be built around twenty feet of the lean-to so that the Rocky Point stage can be properly exhibited from April to October. It would then be stored inside the barn for the winter.
“The next project will be construction of the steps and landing to the upper floor of the barn as this project is on our current building permit.”
By 1993, Mac Page was President of the School Museum Society and he reported to the Annual General Meeting that year that the lean-to had been completed but that:
“The Rocky Point stage coach (given by Donny Parker) was moved under the lean-to because the ceiling in the museum proper was too low to display it effectively….A picket fence has been erected around the stage coach…..Heavy plastic tarps were purchased to protect the stage coach during the winter…..The rest of the lean-to was rented to the Metchosin Producers Farm Market from June to October…
Now that the wiring has been completed and approved in the Pioneer Museum our next project is the completion of the historian’s room in the Pioneer Museum. This will enable our official Historian, Mrs. Daisy Bligh, to organize her material and pictures and lay the framework for an archives of early Metchosin residents…..Mr Bernie Dovell, Project Officer at William Head Penitentiary is searching for an inmate with artistic ability to paint murals as a backdrop to the farm machinery displays. This project has been approved by the prison authorities.”
The Pioneer Museum is still open to the public every Sunday at the same time as the Farmers’ Market. In 2017, however, the Museum Society made the decision to open the museum, together with its companion fundraiser Old Barn Books every Sunday except holiday Sundays.
Which brings us to Old Barn Books. Fundraising has always been necessary in order to pay for those ongoing renovations and improvements. And while many volunteers have always donated time and skills, supplies always have to be paid for. Grant funding helped. The council helped where it could, but the Society recognized a need for a more sustainable source of funds.
In due course, the Board decided to sell books. Ron Bradley, then Society President, arranged with the owner of Russell Books to periodically bring to the museum a supply of books. The Museum Board also established a dropbox for donated books. The response from Metchosin residents was beyond expectations.
The first sale of books was somewhat open-air with books sold at the Farmers Market since the structure today known as Old Barn Books did not exist. Subsequently, books were sold from the “historian’s room” in the Pioneer Museum. In 2006, an extension to the Pioneer Museum was made in order to provide permanent indoor housing for the stagecoach. At this time-space was also made to accommodate requirements for Old Barn Books.
With this extension in 2006, the current (2018) footprint of the Metchosin Pioneer Museum was established. To this day, the Pioneer Museum undergoes continuing renovation and improvement.
To the success of the Pioneer Museum, we owe thanks and appreciation to the many volunteers who have contributed, and who continue to contribute time, skill, money and imagination.
Prepared with thanks to Margaret Roper, Larry Tremblay, Ron Bradley, Anne Greenwood, Bert Harrison and reviews of historic Museum Society minutes and District of Metchosin minutes of Council Meetings.