We Have the Power

New exhibit at the Qualicum Beach Museum explores the history of power and energy, local climate change impacts, and what local people are doing about it.

Research and conceptualization by Qualicum Beach Museum, Qualicum Beach, BC
Designed and Constructed by Matthias Reinicke of Lime Design, Victoria, BC.
Historic Powerhouse Heritage Plan by Donald Luxton and Associates
Historic Powerhouse Refurbishment by Ingleton Construction Management.


The Qualicum Beach Museum officially opened its new exhibit: ‘We Have the Power’ on July 22, 2023. The exhibit is about power, energy and climate change in Qualicum Beach and surrounding area. It is located in our historic powerhouse building that we spent the previous year refurbishing along heritage and environmental best practices guidelines. We listened to climate communication specialists who have found that connecting with people through what is familiar and dear to them is a powerful way to provoke learning and action. We also listened to environmental adult educators, who implore us to move beyond individual and behavioural ‘solutions’ to convey the systemic and cultural shifts that are required to address the climate crisis.

The Exhibit

The title ‘We Have the Power’ refers to both the history of how power came to our community, and to our collective capacity to enact change when faced with a problem as serious as the climate crisis.  The exhibit explores the issue through its historical and social context, featuring the local history of power generation from early coal and diesel power, to sustainable energy technologies such as wave power and micro-hydro. One side of the ‘greenhouse’ structure of the exhibit asks a profoundly unsettling question of each visitor: ‘How will we adapt?’ It details the climate issues that have already impacted our local region, and that are showing every indication of getting worse – food insecurity, water scarcity, heat domes and other extreme weather events, and forest fires. But again following the advice of climate communication specialists, we did not want to leave visitors feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. The other side of the greenhouse shares the stories of local people involved in climate science and activism.  Included are perspectives from Indigenous knowledge keepers, biologists, hydrologists, engineers, nature lovers, youth climate activists, municipal and regional climate change leaders, and individuals making everyday choices to decrease their ecological footprint. The message is that We Have the Power to make things right if we join together to take action on climate change.

Exhibit design and process:

We had several underlying values and goals when designing the exhibit: First, that the importance of Indigenous Ecological Knowledge is understood as central to addressing the profound impacts of climate change. Further that developing respectful relationships with First Nations communities around issues of land and environment is both timely and crucial. Second, that the design of the exhibit would enhance rather than overwhelm the interior aesthetic of our newly revitalized historic brick and steel powerhouse building. Third, that we could easily move and store the exhibit so we can use the space for more in-depth presentations and traveling exhibits on the topic of climate change.  For example, we plan to screen a powerful film, made for the Mt. Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute (MABBRI), that explains how our local water supply is threatened as higher average temperatures reduce the amount of snow on our local mountain. Fourth, we wanted the physical exhibit to have a light ecological footprint. As we included a panel explaining the concept of the ‘ecological footprint’ and encouraged visitors to make theirs smaller, we also wanted to ‘walk the walk’.  We implemented suggestions from museum scholar Robert Janes, who implores museums to end their reliance on high energy consumption buildings and exhibits. We instead chose locally sourced materials that can be recycled rather than end up in a landfill. We minimized the use of plastics by printing directly onto plywood. We chose against high energy consumption climate control for the building, opting instead for basic ceiling fans. The easy to live with result is that it might be a little warm in the summer and visitors may have to wear their coats in the winter. Fifth, we followed the principle that people tend to be more engaged about climate change when they can identify and connect with the issues.  We insisted on highlighting local stories of power and energy, from the history of the powerhouse building and hydro workers, to citizens experimenting with green building techniques and micro hydro projects.  We wove the science into local stories. We talked to a lot of people in our community about climate change and what can be done about it – various levels of government and their climate action plans; local youth activists ‘Fridays for Future’; conservation groups; energy workers; and individuals choosing e-bikes and electric vehicles. We encountered a great deal of generosity and enthusiasm for our project and we learned a great deal. Finally, the land had to have a voice. We featured some very important ecosystems in our local area, which is within the UNESCO designated Mt. Arrowsmith Biosphere Reserve. The exhibit reminds visitors that our region’s special and beloved places, including kelp beds, estuaries, wetlands, forests, and more, are not just beautiful places to walk or relax, but play a crucial role in our health and wellbeing. They store carbon, they provide us with clean air and water, and they provide homes for an amazing diversity of species.  The exhibit presents these special and endangered ecosystems as fellow citizens and climate heroes who deserve our respect and care. This is why our exhibit about power, energy and climate change begins and ends with a beautiful cedar branch designed by local First Nations artist Ocean Hyland. We thank Ocean for sharing this design with us, as we believe it perfectly expresses the hopeful and respectful tone we wanted to convey. The exhibition will be on permanent display at the Qualicum Beach Museum, except on days where the space is used by our community for lectures, film screenings, traveling exhibits or other learning opportunities related to the theme of climate change. Our museum is committed to providing support and encouragement to our community, as together we must learn our way toward a just and sustainable future.

Lorraine Bell, Manager, Qualicum Beach Museum