It will be a dream come true for museum curator Deborah Chapman and likely for children throughout the Shuswap and beyond.
Work is progressing on the Children’s Museum & Discovery Centre at R.J. Haney Heritage Village & Museum, with hopes to open in May.
“I’m very excited,” Chapman said. “I always felt there wasn’t enough for kids to do here… I had seen some really wonderful children’s museums and I thought we should broaden what we have to offer.”
The colourful centre which has been more than three years in the making will have two large sections, one on culture, one on nature. Features include a salmon pinball machine, complete with a river containing obstacles for the return journey to spawn; a nature exploration area with discovery drawers filled with specimens and activities; a log building area; a story telling and reading circle; a miniature First Nations winter home, a train table; a loading crane for a dock; a water wall with pump and more.
Water, in fact, is a central theme that will flow through the centre.
Chapman explained that during community consultations, Neskonlith knowledge keeper Louis Thomas said, ‘It’s all about water – that’s why we’re here.’
“Louis was so right,” Chapman said. “He was remarkable. It was just one of those moments when someone crystallizes everything. He focused us.”
In keeping with that focus, children will step into the wheelhouse of a sternwheeler when entering through the northern entrance. From the south entrance, next to big cedar trees, they will see a traditional dugout canoe. Lloyd Charlie and his son Lloyd Junior have been creating a half canoe out of a cottonwood tree.
Thomas explained water was sacred to his people.
“Any newborn female was named after water, the giver of life.”
The names included the many types and forms of water – trickling water, a bay, running water, various water sounds and so on.
“People need to know how water was important to our people,” Thomas said.
The centre was designed by heritage consultant Cuyler Page, who designed the museum’s Montebello concept based on archival photographs.
“He’s well-respected in the province,” Chapman said, noting Page has worked around B.C. and has visited hundreds of children’s museums throughout North America.
“I really love working with him. It is a collaborative effort and he brings so much to the project.”
Currently Page is using his creativity and skills to build a Shuswap version of a salmon pinball machine, as well as a water wall.
The funding to plan the Children’s Museum and Discovery Centre came from the BC Rural Dividend Program, while funding for construction came from a variety of sources. Chapman said generous donations and grants were received from Sandra and Eugene Dionne with $50,000; the BC Arts Council, $45,000; Cultural Spaces, $28,200; SASCU, $10,000 and Fortis BC, $3,500.
“I am thrilled that the Shuswap Rotary Club is also partnering with us to develop the outdoor play area this spring,” she added.
The area is an extension of the centre and encourages indoor/outdoor play.
She said any child is welcome with their grown-up, particularly those from preschool to middle school. The hope is that adults and children will engage in interactive play and discovery together.
Housed in the space where the tea room used to be, the ceiling is painted a beautiful sky blue, overseeing the welcoming features.
“There will be lots of games to play; it’s just going to be wonderful,” smiled Chapman.