Squamish Historical Society begs for help

Free storage locker, heritage policy and public feedback, top the society's wish list

The Squamish Historical Society needs help.

"I am at the point where I am on my knees clasping my hands, begging our community to please help us," said Bianca Peters, president of the Squamish Historical Society.

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Peters said there has been a trifecta of hardships and challenges that have befallen the volunteer, non-profit organization.

Most pressing at the moment is that the group is losing the storage facility where they have been allowed to house their artifacts for more than a decade.

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Bianca Peters, president of the Squamish Historical Society. - File photo/David Buzzard

"When we first started our organization, back in 2006, obviously we started as a grassroots organization, we built a website and we started receiving archival artifacts — photographs, that sort of thing — so we definitely needed to have a place for our stuff," Peters recalled.

Artifacts, such as pictures, have to be kept in a climate-controlled room and so the group is looking for a new home for storage, preferably one that is free, ground floor and ideally bigger than the eight by 10-foot facility they are currently in.

"I am on my hands and knees begging, begging any businesses out there who could come up to the mat and provide us with a decent storage facility, at no cost, potentially, because we are a volunteer organization that gets our money through grants and from fund-raising," she said. "We are at a crisis point right now."

Also troubling Peters and the group, she said, is that the District of Squamish still doesn't have a heritage policy or a roadmap to one.

And she said the District doesn't seem to have the time or the energy to support the group or heritage preservation in town.

"There's no money for heritage," she said. 

 And without a heritage policy, there isn't much anyone can do to encourage private business owners who buy heritage pieces to keep them as is, Peters said.

"Without a heritage policy... you can't really be telling a business owner what to do with their property.”

Heritage BC is coming to Squamish to put on a workshop to help highlight the important key aspects that need to be tackled for Squamish's heritage preservation, Peters said.

The Squamish Historical Society and other stakeholders will take the workshop, but the District declined to send a representative, Peters said.

"Bottom line, I don't think that heritage is on the agenda, at all — full stop," she said.

Asked to respond to this assertion, Natasha Golbeck, senior director of community services with the District told The Chief that the District is developing an arts, culture, and heritage strategy.

"This multi-phased strategy will aim to identify opportunities to improve and expand access to arts and cultural experiences throughout our community, including those in the realm of social heritage," she said, though she acknowledged this strategy does differ from physical heritage such as artifacts or buildings.

A community survey has also recently been launched, Golbeck added.

Direct stakeholder engagement, including with the Squamish Historical Society, will be conducted in the fall, she said.

"Part of the District’s focus is to work with Squamish Nation to understand and appreciate heritage reaching back thousands of years. There is a much deeper history that currently isn’t reflected throughout the community, and this is an important piece of our efforts towards truth and reconciliation," she said.

Regarding the Heritage BC workshop, Golbeck said the District is "delaying" attending any workshops for the time being, while staffing resources are being directed at priorities in the District’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan.

"We suggested to SHS that this could be looked at in the future as priorities evolve, and did not preclude us from attending workshops in the future," she said.

Golbeck also said the recently adopted Real Estate and Facilities Master Plan identifies a need for physical storage of historical and cultural artifacts.

This will be looked at amongst all other competing priorities as the Master Plan is put into action, she said.

"Non-profits can take a leadership role as there are funding opportunities available to them that aren’t available to municipal governments."

Peters said compounding the Squamish Historical Society’s woes, is that in December the sign for the society's downtown walking tour was vandalized and has to be replaced.

"All the things that have been happening, basically you have a plan for the year, and instead of being able to take care of what actually needs to be taken care of, we are now one step forward and 10 steps back," she said.

She is asking Squamish residents to come forward with support for the BC Heritage workshop planned for November. 

Society board members want to hear from the public about what matters in terms of heritage.

"We definitely want to hear from the community what they think those points are," she said.

Anyone interested in attending the workshop or wanting more information can contact the society at info@squamishhistory.ca.

The group could also use a boardroom for the workshop, she said.

A positive note for the society, Peters said, is that the national app On This Spot, has contacted the Squamish group about setting something up for the district.

The smartphone app lets users see a number of sites of historical importance around a community with pictures and information.

"What it does is encourage the people in the community — or encourages people who are tourists — to download the app and then go on their own tour," Peters said. "The app will let them know, on this spot on this day, this is what it used to look like and this is what it looks like now."

The society is applying for Canadian Heritage and provincial grants to go forward with that project.

For more on the Squamish Historical Society, go to www.squamishhistory.ca/.

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