Opinion

COFFEE WITH: New man at Alberni museum has familiar face

New Alberni Valley Museum manager Jamie Morton examines a drawer full of hand planes used in woodworking—one of several collections of industrial tools at the museum. - WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News
New Alberni Valley Museum manager Jamie Morton examines a drawer full of hand planes used in woodworking—one of several collections of industrial tools at the museum.
— image credit: WAWMEESH G. HAMILTON/Alberni Valley News

Jamie Morton has come full circle by returning to Port Alberni to become the new director of the Alberni Valley Museum.

Morton has been on the job for just under a month and on Monday was working in pre-digital era conditions. “Our computers are down and might stay that way for the rest of the week,” he said. “I’m using the opportunity to catch up on some paperwork.”

Morton came back to Port Alberni from Manitoba, where he worked as the Hudson’s Bay collections curator.

“I was actually looking for a summer job for our son when I came across the job posting for Alberni,” Morton said.

He went through the interview process and Bob’s your uncle, he was hired.

The job represents a return to Port Alberni for Morton, and moreover a return to the Alberni Valley Museum. He was previously an instructor at North Island College in Port Alberni, and a member of the heritage commission, which brought him into contact with the museum.

“Port Alberni has one of the finest small town museums in the province,” Morton said. “Most other places don’t have such an extensive industrial collection for instance.”

Although Morton hasn’t been here long he’d like to see a more solid bridge between the community and museum.

“I’d like to see it become more relevant to the larger community. I don’t think enough people know about what a museum is and what it does, and that’s an Island trend.”

Born and raised in Vancouver, Morton was first exposed to a museum when he visited the former Vancouver City Museum, which is now the Carnegie Community Centre.

“There were these jars of formaldehyde with fish in them, and I remember seeing the mummy exhibit,” he said.

Morton attended Cresecent Heights Elementary then White Rock Vancouver College, where he graduated in 1969.

He wanted to be an archeologist since he was 11. He went to Simon Fraser University, where he earned a BA in archeology.

Morton’s first job in a museum-type setting was at the Fort Langley National Historic Site, where he worked for four years.

“We’d be in period dress and use a lot of traditional crafts, it was fun,” he said. “I learned how to make a water-tight wooden barrel then.”

Morton’s work with museums over the next two decades took him from Calgary to Portland, Oregon.

In 2000, Morton moved to Port Alberni, where he worked as a history and sociology instructor at North Island College.

He left for Manitoba in 2011.

The married father of two recently read two books: a detective novel and Sawlogs on Steel Rails by George McKnight. It’s a book produced in 1995 by the Port Alberni Seniors’ History Committee about the 45 years of railway operations in logging camps around Port Alberni.

A fan of confusing movies, his favourite is an obscure movie about a debaucherous rock star with Mick Jagger called Performance.

Museums are human constructs that are more about the present, Morton said.

“We display things we decide are important and that shows what we value,” he said.

“What’s worth saving tells you a bunch about the present.”

Wawmeesh G. Hamilton is taking a hiatus this summer to work on a special a writing project. Look for new Coffee With columns with Christopher Sun in coming weeks.

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