The Royal British Columbia Museum Has Scrapped a $789 Million Rebuilding Plan After the Public Balked at the Price

The project, announced just a month ago, proved immediately controversial.

The Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Photo: Santi Visalli/Getty Images.

A controversial $789 million plan to rebuild the Royal British Columbia Museum in western Canada has been scrapped just one month after it was unveiled.

John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia, said Wednesday that the choice to overhaul the 136-year-old museum in Victoria was the “wrong decision at the wrong time,” alluding to widespread complaints from locals about the astronomical cost of the project during a period when the province faces cost of living increases and a doctor shortage.

​“I have heard the people of British Columbia quite clearly,” Horgan said at a media event this week. “We thought we had it right. Clearly, we did not.”

“We are stopping the project and we are going to go back to the drawing board,” he said, noting that the institution’s ​senior leadership will form a new plan in consultation with the people of the province. 

The current Royal B.C. museum building, which was erected in 1968 and now faces numerous structural issues—including seismic instability and the presence of hazardous materials like asbestos, lead, mercury, and arsenic—was previously set to close at the end of this summer; now it will remain up through at the least the fall. Meanwhile, construction on ​​a new, in-the-works research and collections building for the museum at another site will continue as planned. It’s expected to open in 2025.

Announced in mid-May, Horgan’s plan would have seen the existing Royal B.C. Museum facility torn down while a new building was built on the same site in downtown Victoria, near the B.C. legislature. The new museum venue was estimated to have been completed by 2030 and would have been the most expensive in Canadian history.

However, the plan proved to be immediately controversial, with British Columbians and provincial politicians alike balking at the $789 million price tag. Kevin Falcon, leader of the British Columbia Liberal Party, called the development a “billion dollar vanity project.” 

A poll ​​conducted earlier this month by the non-profit Angus Reid Institute showed that 69 percent of people opposed the plan

In response to the backlash, Horgan’s team released a 109-page business case justifying the cost of the proposed construction plan, which detailed the safety and logistical concerns of the current building and offered budgets attesting to the fact that creating a new museum would be less expensive than renovating the current one. 

“We understand this investment is a lot of money,” said B.C. tourism minister Melanie Mark at the time, according to the Vancouver Sun. “There is a risk to doing nothing.”

At this week’s event, Horgan said that he and his team will look into more cost-effective options for saving the Royal B.C. museum, such as decentralizing the venue and repatriating some of the seven million objects in the institution’s collection.

“Everything is on the table,” Horgan said.

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