BCHF News History of our Historians: Vancouver Maritime Museum

History of our Historians: Vancouver Maritime Museum

—Refano Evan, Student, University of British Columbia

In attempt to learn more about the people behind BC’s local museums and historical societies, UBC student Refano Evan working on a project with the BCHF interviewed Duncan McLeod, the Curator of the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Q. Why did you choose to work at the Vancouver Maritime Museum?

Having finished a year-long internship at the SFU Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology I was looking for continued opportunities in the heritage sector that would allow me to grow professionally.

I was informed about a Curatorial Assistant position which was open at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. I applied and was successful and have really enjoyed my time working at the Maritime Museum.

Q. Why is it important for people to care about archives and essentially go to a historical society, donate, become, a member to support historical societies in BC?

These collections and organizations are important because they can help us to understand where we have come from and why things are the way they are today. Through responsible telling of history we can learn about past injustices, or important achievements, how they affect our current lives, and how to grow together as a society using this knowledge.

Q. Why did you become a curator?

I have been interested in history for a long time. When I was a kid, I enjoyed the history of Greece and Rome, but it was only when I got to university that I realized there were career options in the preservation and presentation of archaeology and material culture. I chose to pursue work in the world of museums because I enjoy finding ways to connect the general public with their history or other histories through the use of artifacts, photographs and documents.

Q. Do you consider social media an archive?

To me social media is a type of archive. It is quite different from the archives that our Archivist & Librarian manages on a daily basis. Social media is constantly in flux and we have the ability to respond and add to what has been “archived” when posts are created, effectively becoming a part of that archive. You cannot interact in the same way with traditional archives.

Q. What are the biggest challenges you face in being a curator at Vancouver Maritime Museum?

Space is one of our largest challenges at the Museum. And this is an issue facing most museums and galleries. There are so many stories that need to be shared with the public, but only a finite space in which we can present them. Behind the scenes space plays a major part in challenges for our collections. With limited space in storage for artifacts and archival material we have to make difficult decisions about what we accept and what donations we decline. COVID ties into all of this as well as we are further limited in how many people we can have in one space for general visits or events and fundraisers, which cannot physically occur right now.

Q. Why should people care about what you do? What is the big takeaway?

Even though we are limited by space and revenue streams, the Vancouver Maritime Museum still manages to provide a safe space for people to learn and engage with history. We have significantly increased our online programming which is making content more easily accessible for our members and for the general public.


Duncan MacLeod

Duncan MacLeod completed his undergraduate degree at UBC, studying ancient history, cultures and languages. After his undergrad, Duncan traveled to England to pursue a master’s degree in Classical Archaeology at Oxford University.

Duncan has been curator of the Vancouver Maritime Museum since 2015. In 2016, he travelled through the Arctic with One Ocean Expeditions, lecturing about the European quest for the Northwest Passage.