One Person Can Make A Difference – Building the Coastal Connections Temporary Exhibit at the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site [Case Story]

This week’s Guest Post is by Brooke Lees, Curator, Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site, Richmond, B.C. Brooke shares the story of how an historic site can mount a meaningful exhibit about the impact of climate change on our oceans with little money but many committed community partners.

The Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site sits on the picturesque Steveston waterfront in Richmond, BC. The site is owned and operated by the City of Richmond, and a small team of dedicated staff are working with partners to complete a multi-phased restoration of the site’s cultural landscape and 14 heritage buildings. Each year, new permanent exhibits open to the public that focus on maritime heritage and the social and living conditions of the multicultural people who worked on the waterfront. Exhibit themes focus on telling the stories of the past, interpreting them as relevant to the present, and commenting on implications for the future.

Exhibit panels - credit Joel Baziuk
Exhibit panels – credit Joel Baziuk

The new temporary exhibit, “Our Coastal Connection,” at the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site explores our historic ties to our local rivers and west coast environments, and how this has sparked the imagination of many local groups working to celebrate and protect our waters for the future. Over 20 groups are profiled within the exhibit, all of which have dedicated remarkable efforts in areas of water conservation, education, awareness, recycling and entrepreneurship.

The exhibit started with the hope of spreading awareness about the current state of our oceans.

As we go about our daily activities, we forget that our collective actions on land are affecting ecosystems far off shore and out of our direct line of sight,” said Brooke Lees, curator of the exhibit. “A staggering amount of plastic is finding its way into our global oceans every year – 8 million metric tons, which is equivalent in weight to 20,000 fully loaded 747 airplanes. As you can imagine, this is wreaking havoc on marine life and ocean environments. This problem is of course also negatively impacting fish stocks – something vital to our fishing community and the very foundation of the historic fishing village of Steveston.”

“The exhibit outlines the issues, and showcases water stewardship and educational initiatives that began with the efforts of local individuals. Many local people are banding together to implement creative solutions to one of the greatest problems of our time – and this is truly inspiring. These people deserve to be highlighted, and I’m hopeful that their work will inspire others to remember that one person can make a difference, and that every effort at home and in the community can have far reaching impacts.”

Exhibit displays - credit Joel Baziuk
Exhibit displays – credit Joel Baziuk

Although permanent exhibits at Britannia are funded through capital projects, there is no annual budget for temporary exhibits, maintenance or updates.

“In order to continue providing visitors with the latest research and new engaging relevant topics, we have to get creative,” says Brooke. “We work closely with partner groups that provide us with in-kind donations and we do our own research, writing, design and installation.”

Our Coastal Connection was researched, designed and installed with a budget of only $2,000.

“We had the opportunity to work with many enthusiastic people who felt compelled to share their stories and photographs, donate objects for display and provide their research for use in the exhibit.” Brooke explained. “It was a wonderful community effort, and the resulting exhibit is something we are all extremely proud of.”

An open house held on Saturday, June 3 launched the exhibit, with over 250 people in attendance. Visitors explored the exhibit, and met representatives from the Emerald Sea Protection Society, Fraser Riverkeeper and the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. These exhibit partner groups captured visitors’ unique water stories, challenged them to be water champions, showed them what’s lurking in the depths under the waves, and gave them a sneak preview of cool new technologies soon to be released.

Exhibit demonstrations - credit Joel Baziuk
Exhibit demonstrations – credit Joel Baziuk

The exhibit open house was engaging, interactive and extremely well received. Visitors were fascinated with the photographs and information demonstrating the amount of plastic affecting our oceans  – many learning about this environmental crisis for the first time. Visitors left the exhibit with a greater understanding of current marine conservation issues, and were inspired to make changes at home to incorporate ‘greener’ habits in their daily routines.

“These ‘aha’ moments are what we are considering a success in terms of exhibit impact,” says Brooke. “And many of our visitors are recording their feelings in our exhibit guest book, complete with pledges of what they promise to do to help.”

Exhibit activity - credit Joel Baziuk
Exhibit activity – credit Joel Baziuk

Our Coastal Connection will be in place for one year, and will reach an audience of over 120,000 visitors to the Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site. Volunteers and staff are excited to welcome the public to the new exhibit, and to inspire people to remember why we love our waters and what we can do to keep our rivers and oceans clean and safe for everyone to enjoy.

For more information about the exhibit, visit or contact or 604-238-8050. Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site is located at 5180 Westwater Drive in Richmond BC.

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