Railway museum director expresses vision to Council

The Canadian Museum of Rail Travel has identified two key aspects to prepare the museum for the next five years.

The director of the railway museum told council that they have identified two key aspects to prepare the museum for the next five years.

Damon Colgan, who became director a few months ago, said that the first aspect is financial sustainability over the long term and the second is community engagement.

“One of our biggest priorities right now is getting the Royal Alexandra Hall up and renting and making it more user friendly,” Colgan said. “My biggest philosophy on museums and revenue is you have to have multiple streams of revenue, you can’t just have one.”

One of the other initiatives when it comes to financial sustainability is creating new revenue sources. He said some of the examples are to create a Cranbrook museum where they can get revenue from donations or admission to visit the area. The plan also calls for developing regular events for the museum.

The second aspect he talked about was community engagement.

“One of the biggest surprises coming to Cranbrook was that you had no community museum,” Colgan said. “I’ve been to communities with much smaller populations and they have a community museum. When I say community museum, what I mean is where it reflects on different aspects of history. So you have something like Fort Steele, you have the railway museum here, but those are only themes on the history of the community.”

He said he identified right away that there was opportunity to develop a Cranbrook museum.

Colgan says they plan to develop the lower gallery into a more traditional museum with cabinets and display panels. It will be a permanent space because of the space limits. The museum will also get the model train open.

“With the Cranbrook museum, I don’t know if people realize, but we actually house a lot of artifacts from Cranbrook, but they’re in storage right now, the public doesn’t actually get to see the items,” he said.

The upper space in the museum will be less traditional – larger galleries geared towards hands-on exhibits.

“(It will be) very much for a younger audience where you can interact with the exhibits from that timeframe,” he said, adding that it would also develop a space for travelling exhibits that transition at least once a year. “Again, reasons for the community to keep coming back to our organization.”

Colgan said when he presented to the board, one thing he pointed out about the Royal British Columbia Museum and its travelling foreign insect exhibit Alien Invaders, was that it bypasses Cranbrook.

“It stops at Nelson and heads right back down, because there’s just no space in Cranbrook for that,” he said. “So my hope is that we can develop that space and get those here, as well as getting more programs and events happening at the museum more regularly so people see it as a place that’s alive and things are happening.”

Coun. Sharon Cross said she has been observing the transition from her position as liaison on the CAMAL foundation, and said the energy and enthusiasm coming from Colgan and the board is inspiring.

“I’m really pleased to hear the steps that you’re taking to become more sustainable and really look forward to those things manifesting,” Cross said.

Coun. Bob Whetham appreciated the presentation and welcomed the vision for the museum.

“Bringing the community into the museum I think is wonderful, and also extending the role as being more than simply a collection of railway artifacts, but to include a wider range of things, even bugs if we can get them,” he said.