Skip to content

Letter: Kathryn Gagnon reflects on 17 years with Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives

On Sept. 10, I resigned from my position as curator/manager
Kathryn Gagnon, curator of the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives, poses with a portrait of the renowned Cowichan Tribes carver Simon Charlie, which is the centrepiece of the museum’s upgraded First Nations exhibit. Charlie would have celebrated his birthday on Nov. 14. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Kathryn Gagnon reflects on 17 years with Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives

On Sept. 10, I resigned from my position as curator/manager of the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives.

For the past 17 years I have been honoured to work alongside dedicated, knowledgeable, and talented staff and volunteers to offer an outstanding visitor experience for our local communities and for visitors from afar.

Together we built partnerships with educational institutions, local governments, and community organizations to develop and deliver engaging and relevant programming for the public, for schools, and for exhibitions. We strengthened our abilities by collaborating with other institutions such as University of Victoria, Vancouver Island University, University of the Fraser Valley, Simon Fraser University, Cowichan Tribes, City of Duncan, Cowichan Valley Regional District (Economic Development and Parks and Recreation), André and Associates + Design, Shawnigan Lake Museum, Duncan Business Improvement Association, Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre, Cowichan Intercultural Society, Hul’q’umi’num’ Language Academy, HeritageBC, BC Museums Association, Canadian Museums Association, and the BC Historical Federation. These collaborations enabled us to give visitors a memorable and transformative cultural experience and to disseminate information about our history and heritage, such as through the conference Linking the Stories: A Warm Land Heritage Workshop in 2019. To a small museum, such partnerships provide access to expertise we otherwise would not have.

Being a partner in research projects — such as the Punjabi Canadian Legacy Project, Landscapes of Injustice, Asian Canadians on Vancouver Island, Jacobs Research Fund, and the South Asian Canadian Legacy Project — has enabled us to contribute local knowledge and stories to the historical record of previously underrepresented communities. For example, in 2015 we photographed and submitted digitized images of artifacts in our collection to UVic’s award-winning database for the Chinese Canadian Artifacts Project. Such partnerships informed a new narrative for the museum as we prepared for a major renovation of our galleries in 2017, thanks to a substantial BC | Canada 150 grant.

One vision for the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives that I did not see fulfilled is the creation of a repository for community archives collections in the valley — which could be a truly regional effort. In 2006, I met with leaders from local cultural organizations to discuss amalgamation of our respective collections, which would be stored in a new building designed to meet current and future storage needs, have state-of-the-art environmental controls and storage systems, and be staffed with professional archivists and dedicated volunteers. The valley’s historical record is well worth preserving and creating access to; you only need visit our archives — in a space generously provided by Duncan City Hall — to realize we are caretakers of a trove of material. Another goal was to collect archival records that better represent the diverse communities in our valley. Our records are accessed by a variety of users, such as filmmakers, authors, people undertaking environmental studies, and sports enthusiasts. In 2006, CN Engineer Ralph Morris donated a wealth of information related to his years overseeing the maintenance of the Kinsol Trestle, which later played a role in the structure’s rehabilitation in 2011. Collecting, preserving, and creating access to material like this in a centralized building is still a dream.

It has been a privilege to manage the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives and to share the knowledge, stories, and experiences of the valley’s communities through exhibitions and programs; the institution holds evidence of our history, which belongs to everyone. My role as a caretaker — collecting, researching, interpreting, and presenting, along with many collaborators, the cultural heritage of the Cowichan Valley — has been a joy. Thanks to the work of many, the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives is a successful and vibrant cultural organization.

I would like to thank the many enthusiastic and supportive people I have worked with over the years, both within and outside the Cowichan Valley Museum & Archives, who understand the significance of the work we undertake for our community. Museums are powerful platforms for change, transformation, and remembrance, and I encourage you, the community, to continue to support and value the ongoing activities of local cultural institutions.

Kathryn Gagnon