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Re-Opened Museum of Surrey Capturing Community Spirit

Both the Museum of Surrey and Friends of the Surrey Museum are thrilled with the abundance of families coming through their doors.

It’s a relationship that’s truly benefitted the growing population in Surrey.

The Museum of Surrey and the Friends of the Museum of Surrey have been working in conjunction for nearly 20 years. What’s transpired over the past few months has made both parties feel proud of their work.

After undergoing construction, the Museum of Surrey re-opened in September last year. The goal internally was to have 65,000 people come to the Museum to check out the new and improved facility.

Just two months after re-opening, the Museum of Surrey had 70,000 people walk through their doors. That currently makes it one of the most popular museums in Western Canada.

The Museum’s path to rebranding was one that was well planned, and Museum Manager Lynn Saffrey is thrilled with the end result.

“We are blown away by the response,” Saffrey said. “It shows us that people are enjoying themselves.”

“When we rebranded as Museum of Surrey, our new mission was to ignite the imaginations of Surrey residents and citizens,” Saffrey said. “We put together a three-year plan, and what that allowed us to do was focus on being the best people museum in Canada and aligning that with exhibits. We wanted to be a people museum and tell stories of people who moved and immigrated here.”

Saffrey also mentions that the plan was to focus on exhibits that hit home with Surrey’s population, namely the young families in Surrey. That’s why the Museum of Surrey is currently hosting a dinosaur exhibit, with a Lego exhibit set to open in April. There’s also a “TD explore zone” about sustainability, francophone exhibits, an exhibit of Haitians in Surrey, a Kwantlen exhibit and more.

“One thing about Surrey is that we have the most young families in the province,” Saffrey said. We asked ourselves, what are some exhibits to attract that? One was the dinosaur exhibit, and next one is based on Lego.

“Another thing is that people in Surrey are concerned about their world and development. We have the first Biofuel facility in Western Canada here, so we worked on creating a fun kids zone about living responsibly.”

Getting By With A Little Help From Their Friends…

One of the reasons why the Museum of Surrey has enjoyed success is thanks to their long-term relationship with the Friends of the Museum of Surrey. The relationship unofficially goes back as far as 1962, when a man by the name of Doug Hooser began working as a curator for the museum.

Then, in 2000, Hooser donated $20,000 to SurreyCares, (formerly the Surrey Foundation). Since then, Bill McNamara, President of the Friends of the Museum of Surrey, has been on a mission with other volunteers to find funds for the museum’s recent renaissance.

“We formed our society with the commitment to support the Surrey Museum and Archives, shedding light on our heritage,” McNamara said. “We initially raised $1.6 million in 2-3 years after 2000. Our goal was to build a 60,000 square-foot building, but when the economy took a downturn in 2008, we settled on a 24,000 square-foot facility instead.”

While one of the main focuses at the time was to build a new museum, the Friends had another idea which has impacted the Museum of Surrey greatly. That was the idea to implement free admissions for anyone who visits the museum.

“We started free admissions in 2007, which started by discounting the interest that we accumulated through SurreyCares. We decided to take that interest and put it towards admissions.”

“When we presented it to the city, they took a look and figured there wouldn’t be enough donations coming in. We said we’re willing to do it anyways, and we haven’t looked back.”

The idea to give the citizens of Surrey free admissions is a noble one, and one that has worked elsewhere around the globe.

“The Friends realized that we’re a museum that represents the region, and it should be accessible for everybody,” said Saffrey. “It should have very little price or be free. All national museums in the United Kingdom are free and it has enriched peoples lives.

“When people are feeling more fulfilled culturally, then you have a safer community, happier community. It just makes sense to find a way to make it free.”

As McNamara mentioned, part of the reason why Friends of the Surrey Museum were able to provide free admission was because of interest collected through their fund with SurreyCares.

“There were so many top-notch people in Surrey that were well-diversified in the finance industry,” McNamara said. “It was agreed at the time that [SurreyCares] was where we would put our funds. People within that time that felt strong about the Surrey Foundation, and it’s been an ongoing positive relationship ever since.

“I think there always a desire to keep the money here in Surrey with an organization like SurreyCares,” said Saffrey.

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