Courtenay’s refurbished HMCS Alberni Museum and Memorial hosting grand re-opening celebration

The year 2019 has been one of many challenges for a local museum’s celebration of its 20th year.

In the spring the HMCS Alberni Museum and Memorial (HAMM) was damaged by an arson fire and then sustained severe water damage during a sudden rainstorm in the middle of the tourist season. When the call went out on social media this past July that HAMM needed to be evacuated due to sudden flooding, the community rushed to its aid. Within two hours of the announcements through local media and Facebook, the majority of display cases and fixtures had been removed to an empty but dry storefront next to the museum. Over the next two days community volunteers came to assist in disassembling the entire museum including a crew from HMCS Quadra. Only then could the three-week drying process begin and the damages be assessed.

Once volunteers had pulled up all of the damaged floor the work of paying for the restoration began in earnest. Two crowdfunding projects were created and donations of time and money came flooding (no pun intended) in. This allowed the restoration to continue on schedule. The Vancouver Police Museum donated two new custom display cases to replace two of HAMM’s that were removed due to the flood damage. The Port Hardy Museum held a fundraiser for HAMM while other Island museums offered to store some artifacts for safekeeping.

Almost all of the initial estimate of damages ($10,000) was donated and the labour to remove and reinstall flooring was provided as a donation to the museum by a local flooring company and community volunteers.

As luck would have it, while the interior of the museum was being restored, the building that HAMM is located in was being completely renovated inside and out. The determination of the building’s owner to preserve as much of the old building as possible has helped HAMM’s reopening with a new look from stem to stern and port to starboard.

The former Courtenay Mall was built at the end of the Second World War as the tire and battery shop for two neighbouring car dealerships. The area of the building where HAMM is located was the service bays. In the ’60s the building was converted from a gas station/mechanics shop into the Comox Valley’s first indoor shopping mall. Boasting several shops it flourished through both economic boom and bust to the current day. It now has fve tenants which include a restaurant, the museum, and more. You can view how the original building was constructed in the museum where the original architecture can still be seen.

On Oct. 16, HAMM will host an official ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the re-launch of the museum, at 2 p.m. The ceremony will be conducted at the Cliffe Avenue entrance to the museum building at the gates. With music provided by the Canadian Military Wives Choir – Comox there will be eight special guests cutting the ribbon alongside founder and executive director Lewis Bartholomew. They will be representatives of the Canadian Merchant Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy, the families of the crew of Alberni, the families of Canadians of the Great War, the volunteers of The Alberni Project, the Downtown Courtenay BIA, the Canadian Forces Veterans, and international/domestic museums.

The summer exhibit “A Sailor’s Sketchbook,” which has been showing through the summer during construction, has been extended through Remembrance Day.

The traveling exhibit “INNOCENT EYES: war from a different perspective” will be shown for one day only on Oct. 16.

HAMM will open with special hours for Oct. 16, 10 a.m.-8 p.m., to accommodate families who have work or have school during the day. Admission to HAMM is by donation.

For more information on The Alberni Project and the HMCS Alberni Museum and Memorial, visit www.alberniproject.org or www.facebook.com/thealberniproject, or visit the museum at 625 Cliffe Ave., Courtenay.

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