Yale and District Historical Society (YDHS) says they will not rent or sell their museum collection to Forager Foundation.
Meanwhile, Forager Foundation says they were unaware, when accepting the contract to manage the Yale Historic Site, that 95 per cent of the collection belonged to YDHS.
”We’ve been mandated by our membership that we were not to sign any contracts. And we’re not to sell, loan, lease, rent or anything like that,” said Karen Rushlow, the president of the YDHS. “So our collection remains in our possession and we’re packing them up as we speak.”
According to Rushlow, the group will be moving their collection to a building they own in Yale.
Two weeks ago (April 20) YDHS announced to the public that, after 40 years of service, their contract to manage the site hadn’t been renewed and instead had been given to Forager Foundation — a Canadian non-profit. YDHS was informed of the transfer after the B.C. Heritage Branch said that their application, to re-tender their contract to manage the site, had been denied.
Years ago, the site was sold to the B.C. government for $1 with a “good faith agreement” that YDHS would continue to manage it. However, at the end of 2022, YDHS was asked to re-tender their contract. A few weeks later, Heritage Branch rejected their application.
Rushlow said the whole situation has been disappointing. She said that YDHS’s relationship with Heritage Branch hasn’t been easy, with the province making it difficult for the society to make independent decisions to improve the site. There was also no Indigenous consultation, which Spuzzum First Nation Chief James Hobart confirmed in the press release. Spuzzum, along with Yale First Nation and Boston Bar First Nation, are stakeholders of the site and board members of YDHS.
According to Heritage Branch, via email, they, “notified all First Nations whose territory overlaps with Yale Historic Site of an upcoming Request for Proposal (RFP) process, that Yale and District Historical Society was the current operator and that there could be a potential change in site operator. This included providing an opportunity for Nations to provide comment on the RFP process and on the operations of the site more generally. Nations would be notified of the results once contract negotiations are complete.”
In the YDHS’s press release, “the application process was based on a scoring system that was weighted most heavily on experience, and so – having managed the site for 40 years, and owning 95 per cent of the museum’s artifacts and historical information displays– we felt we were in a strong position. The application was also reviewed by a certified heritage professional prior to submission, who deemed it to be a strong application. We submitted several letters of support, including from Yale First Nation, Fraser Valley Regional District and Tourism Hope.”
While being informed of the transfer, Rushlow said they were asked by Heritage Branch to “transfer knowledge” on how to manage the site to the foundation.
“They gave us two options for contracts to sign,” Rushlow said. “One for one month, and one for three months. We would have been paid a portion of what amounted to a 12 month contract. And then we would have had to pay all the bills and I’m gonna tell you right now, the funding they offered does not pay the fixed costs. So they were offering us nothing. And they wanted us to train the new people and set up the site for them.”
Heritage Branch denies that they asked YDHS to train Forager.
“Though, the Province is actively pursuing this goal, Yale and District Historical Society has not been asked to train Forager,” Heritage Branch said. “Forager Foundation was chosen to provide site operations for the next five years. The decision was made based on a standard merit-based competitive procurement process used for all provincial heritage operations contracts.”
According to the contract, which was given to YDHS by the Heritage Branch (and then shared with the Standard), the intent of the transition includes, “to fund the Yale and District Historical Society (YDHS) to provide updated inventories of their property and collections at Yale Historic Site, to transition knowledge to the new site operator and to arrange the removal or sale/transfer/loan to the Province or new site operation of all such property, as applicable.”
At this time, YDHS has not signed any contracts with Heritage Branch or Forager.
Bryce Matthew Watts, one of the founders and directors of Forager, said that he wasn’t informed that YDHS owned most of the collection. He said the Forager was told that they would be getting a key handoff that included the buildings and the entire museum collection. While he is disappointed to learn he might be coming to an empty building, he said he sees the empty space as an opportunity to tell Yale’s story in a new way.
“Our hope is to work with the local First Nations and there’s a strong Chinese-Canadian history of the site as well,” Watts said. “There’s a lot of really great exhibits out there that don’t have 1000s and 1000s of objects on display within the exhibit space, but they still tell a really great story and showcase the history of that area.”
Watts, who is planning to move to Yale and work on-site, said a lot of misinformation has been surrounding his organization since YDHS’s press release. He said that Forager is a Canadian non-profit dedicated to “preserving and promoting natural and cultural heritage through innovative community-driven projects in Canada and beyond.”
Started in 2013, with four members, the organization originally did wild plant walks through local parks and had magazine publications with different topics in heritage. The group also had projects throughout Mexico which included a natural heritage garden project at an Indigenous healing centre in Guadalajara. However, as it was volunteer based and the members were in their early twenties, Watts said the group went on hiatus to allow members to pursue other avenues. They returned to Forager a few years later.
During this hiatus, Watts said he began building businesses which included Forager International, Forager Education, Forager Media Group, Forager Financial Services— all for-profit companies that provide “support services to arts and cultural heritage organizations.” Backed by these companies, the last couple of years has been devoted to building a strategic partnership with the B.C. Museums Association, and about “25 per cent of B.C. heritage sectors have signed up as partners.”
Experience wise, Watts said Forager has worked with Barkerville Historic Town and Park, Craigdarroch Castle, the Jewish Museum of B.C., Tumbler Ridge Geopark, Dawson Creek Art Gallery, Heritage Acres, Roedde House Museum, Vancouver Museum of North Vancouver, as well as other historical and cultural organizations.
However the organization does not have experience managing a historic site.
According to Watts, the province’s reasons for choosing Forager over YDHS are unknown to him — but he confirms that Forager went through the same steps as YDHS. As such, he wants to assure Yale that it’s not his intention to ruin the decades of work done to maintain the site.
“Our real hope is to continue the legacy of the current society but also to add the unique skill sets that we’ve been developing over the last few years. So that we can really find new ways to showcase and drive more people coming into the community.”
The Foundation’s plan for the site includes using it as a heritage innovation hub. This includes implementing new resources, programs, interactive experiences, and reaching out to other heritage organizations in order to expand the public’s knowledge about the history in the area.
Currently, Forager is looking for a Museum Assistant to work the site. According to their post, which is posted on Indeed, the job is from May until the end of September. Watts also said that the company’s website, which is being re-worked due to the hiatus, should be up and running within the week.
Upon seeing the hiring post, Rushlow said that the board was concerned about the position not requiring secondary school education and only being for a few months. She said that, with the depth of history and the amount of artifacts Yale has, more than a few months would be needed to set up the site.
“There’s tons of people impacted in this,” Rushlow said. “I know for me my whole life has been turned upside down because I am going to lose my job that I’ve absolutely put my heart and soul into.”