PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. – If you’ve built it, there’s a historical society that just might want to come – especially if you make them an offer they can’t refuse.
The group, the Teamsters Freight Museum & Archives Society, is hoping a white knight will ride to their rescue and provide a new home for their vintage displays of transportation memorabilia. The reason, according to curator Norm Lynch, is that the owners of the Port Coquitlam warehouse the museum called home for several years decided they wanted the rent paid in cash only, instead of partially in cash and partially via a charitable tax receipt as had been the status quo. That change, and the additional burden of the Harmonized Sales Tax, means the society can no longer afford to keep its doors open.
“That HST kills us,” says Lynch, who’s been involved in the museum since before it was a museum. The extra taxes and the additional cash “would amount to doubling the dollar output, about another $500 a month,” he says.
All of which means the organization is scrambling to find another empty warehouse – in vain, as of this writing.
The society was originally scheduled to be out of the Port Coquitlam location by the end of October 2010, but managed to get some extra wiggle room to allow it to find a new place.
“We have an extension for January and probably February,” Lynch says. They’re looking at quite a few places, including one in Pitt Meadows and another in Delta, but so far nothing has been agreed upon.
Port Alberni has also been mentioned as a potential landing site for the museum, and there have indeed been talks between the society and its opposite number in Port Alberni, the Alberni District Museum and Historical Society. The Vancouver Island group is the driving force behind the Alberni Valley Museum, where old trucks, logging equipment and trains are repaired and put on display. And while that might seem like a good match, Port Alberni Mayor Ken McRae doesn’t think anything will come of the discussions.
“The thing is, we don’t have any money,” McRae says. “We’re like a lot of organizations that way. Besides, there’s no way we could take the whole exhibit and put it in our place; we’re crammed up as it is because they actually work on the equipment there – they’re always restoring something.”
Lynch hopes the entire museum collection, including the 20 trucks they have currently as well as the other displays and related items, can be relocated intact.
“We’re trying to keep the whole thing together and keep it as the Teamster’s Museum,” he says, “but I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen.”
Teamsters Joint Council 36 president Don McGill hopes the publicity that the museum’s plight has generated can help them dig up new digs.
“Otherwise,” he says, “we’ll be selling equipment.”
The 7,200 sq.-ft. of space the Teamsters Museum is vacating not only contains classic trucks, it also has display areas for antique tools and truck models, as well as meeting space and photographs. McGill says that, to him, the tools are just as important as the trucks.
“You don’t even see these things around anymore,” he says. “Most people would throw them in a scrap heap because they don’t even recognize them.”
Curator Lynch, who retired from driving in 1992 after a stroke, says the museum was founded after the then-president of Teamsters Local 31 asked him if he could find a 1936 model year vehicle for the Local’s 60th anniversary celebration.
“I asked him how soon he needed it and he said in a couple of weeks,” Lynch recalls. “I said it was going to take a little while to find such a truck, so he asked if I could find some memorabilia. We set up something really beautiful with all kinds pictures – it was really well done.”
The rest, no pun intended, was history. Lynch says the display impressed the heck out of the Teamsters boss, “So I suggested we set up a museum with lots of photos and a few trucks and they told me to see what I could come up with.”
And come up with trucks he did. Lynch learned of a collection that was stored in Chilliwack and which had once belonged to an earlier museum in Cloverdale.
“The Cloverdale museum was quite a bit bigger,” he says, “and when it was shut down many of the units there were sold.” But not all. “We had some meetings (with the government) in Victoria,” he says, “and finally they said they’d loan us the trucks for two years and see what we’d do with them – if they were happy then they’d transfer them over to us.”
The trucks were rolled out of Chilliwack in the spring of 1997, Lynch says, at which time they went to a location in Vancouver.
“And after two years the government decided we’d done a fantastic job and they signed them over to us for a dollar. We’ve added trucks since then, of course.”
Some of the trucks on display were once owned by Bob King, a trucking magnate who Lynch says virtually controlled the industry in Vancouver until the late 1950s, at which time he locked his trucks away in a warehouse after a quarrel with the Teamsters. “It was a metal warehouse full of condensation and they were getting in bad shape,” he remembers.
Other trucks came from a variety of places. Lynch recounts the story of finding one in Elko, B.C., on the Southern Trans-Canada Highway a short distance west of Fernie.
“A man had a 1935 Maple Leaf parked in his yard and we decided to go and get it,” he says. “It had been parked so long that two trees had grown up behind and the only way we could get it out was to cut those trees down.”
Lynch says the donor’s neighbours arrived with chain saws and cut down the trees, after which the truck was towed out and brought back to the museum to be restored. “If you saw it today you wouldn’t believe it,” he says proudly. The oldest truck in the collection is a 1914 FWD; the newest is a 1951 three-quarter tonne, five window Chevrolet pick-up that belonged to B.C. Tel.
“It was redone for the B.C. Centennial,” Lynch says, “and after that they didn’t know what to do with it so they phoned us up and asked if we were interested.”
Lynch is also proud of the miniature trucks in the collection. “One of them we had to put a mirror under because it was so well done underneath, with the transmission and driveline.”
That particular truck, he says, is currently back with the person who donated it “Because we didn’t want it to get lost or broken in the move. He said he’d bring it back if we get settled somewhere again.”
They also have many metal replicas of trucks that no longer exist, including some Consolidated Freightways and Canadian Freightways units that were donated. All of these displays have been packed away, however, pending the move to new quarters. “All the showcases are empty and we’re ready to move,” Lynch says. “We just need a place to go.”