Opinion

COFFEE WITH: Internship turns into love affair with Alberni

 Alberni Valley Museum director Jean McIntosh peers at a miniature cedar basket that resembles those that are part of her favourite exhibit. - WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News
Alberni Valley Museum director Jean McIntosh peers at a miniature cedar basket that resembles those that are part of her favourite exhibit.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

An internship opportunity 30 years ago was supposed to be a stop along the way to a career.

But who’d have known that the career would turn out to be here?

With the sound of CBC Radio chiming in her office, Alberni Valley Museum director Jean McIntosh talked about where she came from, what brought her to Port Alberni, and why she’s stayed.

McIntosh was born in New Westminster in 1953 but grew up in Kamloops, where she went to school from Grades 2-12.

Her earliest memory of childhood is dressing up like a gypsy on Halloween night in New Westminster.

“I ran up to dad and he pretended not to recognize me,” McIntosh said.

Her grandmother took her often to the Kamloops Museum and Archives while growing up, an activity that foreshadowed McIntosh’s career to come.

She originally wanted to be teacher after high school graduation, but a family friend convinced her to take arts courses first.

The move to Vancouver from Kamloops was a great move educationally, but it was also an eye-opener socially.

“I went to poetry readings, gallery showings and musical concerts,” McIntosh said. “There was so much to do.”

She attended the University of British Columbia off and on to finish her studies, and also worked at a dentist’s office, Super Valu and BC Tel.

McIntosh was working on her master’s degree when in 1982 she took up a one-year curator’s internship at the Alberni Valley Museum.

She’d visited Alberni as a child, and her mother was from here, so she was already familiar with the community.

McIntosh immersed herself into the small-town life by attending a plethora of community events.

She stayed in Alberni. In 1985 she became the curator and in 1990 assumed the directorship, a position she continues to hold.

The best parts of her job are the diversity of projects the museum is involved with, as well as the people who are passionate about history.

The most challenging parts of the job are the sheer number of things the museum is involved with and the time juggling required managing them.

Museums and heritage are part of a city’s DNA strand and integral to understanding it, a fact that McIntosh saw demonstrated in real life.

“Ike Patterson understood it: to understand and embrace a community you need to know about its past,” she said.

“Our history is what distinguishes us from other communities.”

McIntosh never lost her childhood passion for reading, and counts Gabriel Hamilton, Ruth Reichl and Jane Urquhart among her favourite authors.

Trimly built with a brisk stride, McIntosh stays fit by jogging and participating in boot camp.

“My gardener’s knee has been giving me trouble lately though,” she said.

If she could reach back in her years she’d take more time to both read and produce works of research, McIntosh said.

If the classical music connoisseur could have a coffee with an historical figure it would be former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Upon meeting him “I don’t think I’d know what to say,” she said.

reporter@albernivalleynews.com

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