New Brunswick

'Secretive' plans for new museum deny public a voice, Saint John prof says

New Brunswickers have mostly been kept in the dark since surprise plans were announced for a new provincial museum in Saint John, a UNB history professor says.

The goal is to start site work next spring, but location of new museum in Saint John still isn't known

The site for a proposed new New Brunswick museum in Saint John has not been selected, but the new building will replace this one on Douglas Avenue. (Google)

New Brunswickers have mostly been kept in the dark since surprise plans were announced for a new provincial museum in Saint John, a UNB history professor says.

Site work on a brand new New Brunswick Museum is supposed to begin next spring, but there is still no indication of where it might be built, what it would look like, and who will design the space.

"This is going to be a signature building," said Greg Marquis, who teaches history at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John. "We're not building a bridge, or government office. We're building something that will last a few generations.

"It's going to be a major cultural investment. … I'm excited but worried about the apparent lack of consultation."

Greg Marquis, a history professor at UNB Saint John, has been critical of the province's lack of openness surrounding the museum project. (University of New Brunswick)

The public knew nothing about the project until Premier Brian Gallant announced in October that a new museum would replace the old archives building in the north end and the relatively new exhibit space at Market Square by the harbour. Gallant said the government listened to "stakeholders" but didn't say who they were.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said a site has not been selected.

Tanya Greer said consultation has already started, although only with a select group.

"Government undertook a consultation process over the summer months that targeted 50 to 60 stakeholders, including several representatives from UNBSJ," Greer said.

"We will continue working with stakeholders to ensure we have a museum that continues to meet the needs of New Brunswickers now and in the future."

'No one knows'

But Marquis told Information Morning Saint John that no one in his heritage and academic circles has any knowledge of prior consultation.

"No one seems to know what is going on,'' he wrote in a letter to John Ames, the minister of tourism, heritage and culture.

Marquis said at the very least, such a meeting should have been communicated to the public, so people could hear what groups were at the table.

If consultation is to continue, Marquis said, it needs to be broadened to include the community.

'Excite the public'

"I'm just hoping we're not rushing to build something for reasons that are apart from our need to have a well-designed facility that will last long after we're gone," Marquis said.

He referred to the Halifax Central Library, which was largely a product of public feedback.

"Aside from having a great location, a big budget and beautiful design, they had public input, and I think you need all four components there," said Marquis.

"We want a building that's not just going to be a building with historical things in it, we want a building that's going to excite the public and tourists, and make the staff proud."

Marquis said he wants to know whether there will be a competition among architects for the winning design, among other things. (CBC)

In his letter to Ames, Marquis asked whether there would be a competition among architects for the winning design, and if those architects plan to consult with the local and provincial community.

"I am not supportive of a process that appears secretive, top-down and cut off from the community that the museum would supposedly serve," he wrote.

Ames replied to the letter, saying he would be preparing a response, said Marquis.

"I thought it was nice but part of me thought, 'Couldn't he just phone me and tell me we're going to have consultation or we're not?'" Marquis said.

"I can't be the only person in New Brunswick who has some questions about this."

'Holistic proposal'

In her email to CBC, Greer wrote that the provincial government has taken a "leadership role in seeking a solution to the longstanding question of the museum facility's future."

The department is putting together a "holistic proposal," which it hopes will achieve federal support, she said.

In October, the province promised $50 million for the project, which is planned for the city's uptown.

The new museum would leave a large hole at Market Square, where the public exhibit side of the museum now resides. It will also replace the archives in the aging Douglas Avenue building.

While the Liberal government announced no other plans for the 83-year-old Douglas Avenue property, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure has been carrying out repairs to it.

With files from Information Morning Saint John