Despite much fanfare around its initial announcement, North Vancouver won't be getting a new museum just yet.

The North Vancouver Museum and Archives was set to move to a new location in the historic Pipe Shop building at the city's former shipyards. But concerns about initial and ongoing costs — as well as attendance — caused the city to pull the plug on the project.

North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto said he hopes the museum can find a more suitable location in the future.

"We're not saying that we don't want to have a museum," Mussatto told On the Coast host Michelle Elliot. "But to have such a large facility, costing a lot of money to operate, was a real challenge for us, and we had to make that difficult decision."

The museum was billed as a regional attraction that would draw tourists and residents from around the Lower Mainland. But an independent audit commissioned by the city found that the museum was unlikely to draw enough visitors to justify the new, larger facility.

"This [museum] was more about our local history — telling our story for the shipbuilding and the logging and such that happened here," Mussatto said. "It's something that we're very proud of and we need to tell that story. But is it going to be a regional attraction? I think there were some challenges with that."

Audit 'factually inaccurate': museum

In an 84-page response to the city, the museum said the independent audit contained several inaccuracies.

"NVMA views the BDO report as factually inaccurate, lacking in understanding of how non-profit museums operate, and narrow and excessively pessimistic in its perspective," noted the museum.

One of its concerns was regarding its projected annual operating deficit. The museum said many similar non-profit organizations routinely operate on a deficit, which is covered by fundraising from private donors.

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An independent audit compared the North Vancouver Museum and Archives to the now-defunct Storyeum museum. ((Richard Lam/Canadian Press))

It said the percentage of annual costs expected to be covered by fundraising was comparable to similar institutions across Canada and the Lower Mainland. 

The museum also raised concerns about the other organizations the audit compared it to — one of them being the now-defunct Storyeum, a private "theatrical adventure" designed more as an attraction than a museum. 

It also claims the report's portrayal of struggling historic museums across the Lower Mainland is inaccurate, and that many municipalities are in the midst of expanding their museums.

Initial funding not secured

Mussatto agreed that the museum shouldn't be run on a for-profit model, and reaffirmed the city's support for museums. But said he would rather see a smaller, free-to-enter museum than a bigger, expensive one that would be forced to charge admission.

"Right now we subsidize, between the city and district, $1 million each year in operating [costs] for museums and archives," Mussatto said. "That's probably, per capita, higher than anywhere else in the province."

He said it wasn't just operating costs that held the project back — the museum was unable to secure the $10 million required to build the museum in the first place.

Mussatto said the city was committed to match fundraising efforts dollar for dollar, meaning the museum only needed to raise $5 million. The federal government had committed another $2.2 million. Despite their best efforts, fundraisers were unable to meet the shortfall.

While he said it likely won't happen soon, Mussatto was optimistic a new, more suitable location for the museum would be found in the future.

"Do we need a museum? Yes," he said. "Do we need to maybe look at the scale and scope of it and scale it down a bit? Probably."


To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labelled: North Vancouver won't get $10M new Pipe Shop museum after all