SFU students help restore burned museum

By Sahira Memon

Chase museum damaged as a result of arson

An SFU archeological conservation class is traveling to Chase, B.C. to help restore and conserve precious artifacts that were charred and damaged in two fires at the Chase and District Museum and Archives.

“We had the opportunity to do other projects but the 14 of us felt as though we would have a better time in Chase,” said Mike Koole, one of the students, in an email to The Peak.

To prepare for the project, the students devised a number of fundraising efforts, including emails to prospective donors, ads in the archeology program’s Debitage publication, going to archeology classes and seminars and asking for donations, and a meet-and-greet dinner where volunteers collected donations instead of tips. These efforts were aimed mostly at teachers and students. Larger fundraising efforts like bake sales will be pursued after the trip to Chase.

The students will be using conservation methods learned in class, and will mostly be dealing with recovered artifacts covered in soot and melded with plastic.

The Chase and District Museum and Archives was founded in 1910, in a building that previously housed the Catholic Church of the Blessed Sacrament.  It is developed and run predominately by volunteers, as it is difficult to hire full time staff due to a lack of funding. It housed artifacts such as archival files describing the life of historical figure and famous train robber Billy Miner, and archeological materials held for the Little Shuswap Band.

The fires that caused the damage occurred on July 9 and July 12, 2011. On July 9, Joan Anderson, volunteer office manager of the museum, was woken up by phone calls from the museum alarm system and the fire department and rushed down to the scene.  A fire in the basement had occurred, but due to rapid response from residents surrounding the museum, damage was kept to a minimum. Gas soaked rags found at the scene suggested foul play. The ill will was confirmed with a much more aggressive attack on July 12, in which “arsonists gained access to the main floor and proceeded to vandalize the exhibits, the office, and the kitchen before setting several fires throughout the building,” said Joan Anderson in an email to The Peak. Due to damage inflicted on the alarm system during the first attack, by the time the presence of the arsonists was suspected, it was too late. Large fans meant to clear the air from the first fire fanned the flame for the second and as a result, the offices and archives of the museum were severely damaged. “I was saddened and shocked at the extent of damage,” said Barbara Winter, the SFU archeology professor leading the trip.

When it comes to restoration, a lack of complete insurance due to a shortage of funds has increased the load financially on the volunteers and supporters of the museum. An estimated cost of $50,000 is expected to cover the remaining damage.  The museum is relying on donations and support from the community to keep it running.