Discussions begin with founder G.E. (Gerry) Wellburn on developing a community asset by moving his personal collection from his 6 hectare (15 acres) property near Deerholme to a more publicly accessible site.
Beaver Lake, an area near Victoria was chosen and arrangements where made to transfer the collection with the assistance of the Provincial Government. The local community prevailed upon Gerry and the government for the collection to stay in the Cowichan Valley, provided an appropriate site could be obtained.
An appropriate site was found in the 6 hectare Drinkwater property located on the south side of Drinkwater Road as it was visible from the island highway and had a historical connection to the early settlement of the Cowichan Valley. The site was a mink farm but more importantly it had been the location of the Cowichan Valley’s first public building – a combined schoolhouse and chapel erected in 1863. This property continues to form part of the property occupied by the Centre.
Our First Board
The Cowichan Valley Museum Society was incorporated under the Societies Act, March 2, 1964 (Certificate No. 6837). The first Directors of the Cowichan Valley Forest Museum Society included: George Evans; Gerald Wellburn; William Dobson; John Lawrence, Hector Stone; Herbert St. Gray; David R. Williams (Chair); Mrs. Elaine Dobbyn representing the Municipality of North Cowichan; Mrs. Mildred Child, the Village of Lake Cowichan; and Jack Dobson, the City of Duncan. B.W.W. Cocks was Treasurer.
On June 4 and 5, the Cowichan Valley Forest Museum officially opened. The first year paid attendance totalled 28,369. The museum showed an operating profit.
Four more pieces of property immediately adjacent to the museum were purchased and the 21 hectare (51 acres) Windeyer property was added.
The museum had grown to over 38 hectares (95 acres) in size. The collection and properties were conveyed to the Provincial Government and designated an historical site under the Archaeological and Historic Sites Protection Act. A new society was formed under the aegis of the government to administer the site. Local representation remained on the board.
July 15, the Cowichan Valley Forest Museum as a society was formally dissolved with its functions taken over by the British Columbia Forest Museum.
The 32 operating years behind the BC Forest Museum have been challenging for successive boards of directors. Today the board is even more representative of the community. In 1988, changes to its constitution opened the society to public membership. The unions of the valley, forest-industry related groups, and friends of the museum also joined the board. During his last visit to the museum for Pioneer Day celebrations in 1991, as he looked out over the crowd of some 3,000 pioneers he was going to address, Gerry offered a comment: “I think you’re finally getting it right”.
Day to day operations during the open season continue to challenge the staff and board. The collection has grown and attendance has increased significantly over these years.
Moving into the future and overcoming the hurdles of a modern business enterprise will be a significant task. Revenues continue to restrict significant movement forcing the board to plan new strategies. New initiatives to ensure future growth include a memorial and a foundation endowment fund. A myriad of new activities are programmed for this fiscal year to start the process. A new chapel will be constructed, the Caycuse blacksmith shop will be erected. New and exciting events will be introduced to spur attendance, the cornerstone of future growth. All of this activity is based on a new vision for the BC Forest Museum.
Our new vision is: “To be British Columbia’s foremost interpreter and presenter of the forest community — past, present and future”.
The BC Forest Discovery Centre is formally established as the new name of our operating facility, in order to better reflect the evolving mandate of the BC Forest Museum Society and the growing sophistication of our exhibits and programming.
Today’s British Columbia Forest Museum Board acknowledges the contributions of its early directors; the skilled and devoted staff; and its many generous partners for their wisdom, assistance, generosity of time, materials, and financial support over the past 36 years. With these contributions, the museum is better positioned and able to meet the diverse needs of today’s visitors as well as future challenges.
Cowichan Newsleader, “Forest Museum project will get 4 to 1 support outside”, May 1964
Norman Gidney, “Gerry Wellburn recalls old train that drove him to create museum”, Horizons, December 30, 1990.
Gray Campbell and Michael Coney, Forest Adventure: A Guide to the British Columbia Forest Museum, Porthole Press Ltd: Sidney, 1985
BC Forest Museum scrapbooks
Gerry Wellburn, speaking to the Pacific Forestry Centre, “The History of Logging in the Cowichan Valley”, May 31, 1989 Vern Wellburn.