What is Old is New Again
In 2004, the lights were turned off, and the doors of the fourth Lynn Valley School closed behind the last student. Once again, overcrowding and aging infrastructure required the District of North Vancouver to move students into a new building, leaving behind the once-majestic Edwardian building empty and without purpose.
At the same time, the North Vancouver Museum & Archives (NVMA) had outgrown its home at Presentation House Arts Centre on Chesterfield Street in the City of North Vancouver. NVMA Director, Robin Inglis (1991-2007) started looking for a new home to preserve and present North Vancouver’s cultural materials and historical documentation.
Prior to Inglis’s arrival as Director, the Museum operated as a traditional local history museum, collecting materials about settler life on the north shore. Under his direction, the NVMA expanded its scope thus increasing the acquisition of museum objects and archival records. In 1996, the City and District of North Vancouver agreed jointly to create and fund the North Vancouver Museum & Archives Commission. The municipal bylaws dictate that the Commission’s official mandate is to serve as the sole custodian of the City and District’s cultural, archival and museum collections and to facilitate, encourage and provide a broad array of museum and archives services.
“I think, when you have a community museum and archives that can stand with any in the country, it’s kind of precious.”
Another champion of the NVMA was District Mayor Janice Harris (2004-2005). She believed the former elementary school was a key part of the District’s Heritage Inventory, not only the building but also the importance of its placement in historical Shaketown. A decision had to be made to repurpose or tear down the former school.
Robin Inglis became involved and presented the opportunity to repurpose the heritage building as the new home of the NVMA and add a Veterans Memorial Plaza outside.
The landscape feature coincided with the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Through a brick purchase program spearheaded by the Lynn Valley branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, a funding opportunity was created and the community got involved.
“…It was serendipitous in a way, but it required a leap of imagination. It required a creative and thoughtful approach and I thought it just was community planning at its best, as far as I’m concerned. A great legacy.”
Former District Mayor, Janice Harris, 2020
With support from the District council, the community’s Heritage Commission and NVMA leadership, the restoration and adaptation of the building commenced in early 2005. Vancouver-based Boni-Maddison Architects developed the restoration and adaptation plan, which was informed by an earlier report by Commonwealth Historic Management Ltd. (Harold Kalman) and Cultural Building Consultant Murray Frost.
In May 2006, the building was opened to the public, showcasing the archives reference room, environmentally controlled archives and art storage, a community meeting room and offices for the NVMA staff.
Reflecting the long-term vision for Lynn Valley Centre, one of vibrancy and connectivity, the NVMA provides public programs, exhibitions and research services for the North Shore community. In reflecting upon the adaptive reuse plan for the heritage building, former District Manager of Community Planning, Irwin Torry recalls that:
“… when we saw this opportunity, it was a natural fit. Well I was just impressed with how natural a fit the archives facility was with that building. It just seemed to be meant for that.”
(Irwin Torry, 2020)
A significant heritage structure as well as a state-of-the-art community archives, the building is a symbol of strength and resilience. Today, it continues to serve as a centre for education and a repository of community memory. Archival photographs, oral histories and textual records are available online and on-site. With current COVID-19 restrictions, the public is encouraged to explore the Archives of North Vancouver online exhibitions that showcase the unique history of individuals and associations who chose to make the north shore their home.
The Archives of North Vancouver database is a rich resource for scholars and community members interested in discovering primary materials, such as maps, photographs and correspondence. Much of the historical evidence preserved at the archives in Lynn Valley has inspired feature exhibits and public programs at MONOVA, our new museum opening in Lower Lonsdale in 2021.