If you’ve ever pondered the history of Sidney or the significance of its street names and early beginnings, a visit to the Sidney Museum is a must.
Established in 1971, its mandate is to collect, preserve and display historical artifacts and archival materials from Sidney and North Saanich and the 5,000-square-foot space continues to flourish.
As executive director for the past 24 years, Peter Garnham is at the helm of the Sidney Museum and is immensely proud of what it has accomplished. “We’ve increased our operation and community involvement, and we now have a much broader media presence,” he told the Peninsula News Review. Together with his assistant director, Allyssa Gerwing, he’s in the process of digitizing the full record of archives, a special project to celebrate the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2021. That includes The Review (a local newspaper from 1912 to 1989), Sidney municipal records and photos and records from the Dominion Experimental Farm.
The museum has a wide range of permanent exhibits with more than 8,000 artifacts that visitors will find interesting. Check out the full-size cow and tractor in the farming exhibit, and the 1920s-era kitchen, its shelves stocked with all the cans, jars and dry food supplies used by families in those years. Another display shows artifacts from various Sidney businesses, including the grinding stone from the Brackman Kerr flour mill and an original 1940s can of clams from the Sidney Cannery.
There are exhibits on Frist and Second World War, a display on the Resthaven Hospital, which began in 1911 as a sanatorium run by Seventh Day Adventists, and on the old Chinatown, which is where the museum is presently located. There’s also a section on marine activity with information on the vessels that plied its waters. Look out for information on the Iroquois, the Sidney ferry that travelled between Sidney and Nanaimo before capsizing in 1911 and taking 22 passengers down with it. Sidney’s Iroquois Park is named after it. And don’t leave without seeing the indigenous cultural items housed in a replica corner of a longhouse.
“We still have people who’ve lived in Sidney for years but don’t know we’re here,” Garnham said. “People are very surprised about the compact size, the extent of our collection and our great layout.”
The museum welcomes school groups and last year had 15,000 visitors through its doors. Its temporary Lego exhibit, which was on display January through March, attracted 12,500 visitors alone. Presently on display is a quilting exhibit that runs through June, followed by an exhibit on Chief Dan George from June until September. This will kick off with an opening ceremony on June 21 at 10 a.m., which will feature the Bayside Middle School Indigenous Youth Choir, and First Nations elders, drummers and singers. “We’re thrilled to have First Nations drummers and singers in the heart of Sidney,” Garnham said.
The Chief Dan George exhibit will be followed by one on First Nations’ art and culture running from October through November, and kids will love the toys and teddy bears exhibit, on display in November and December. Admission to the museum is by donation and if you’ve never toured this space, you’re in for a good surprise.
Garnham added, “I always enjoy people’s reactions about how much they appreciate the museum, and how much they learn from it about the area.”