Going beyond the bar: VIU students research Nanaimo’s culinary past

June 14, 2024

New exhibit tackling Nanaimo’s food histories now open at the Nanaimo Museum.­­Beyond its famous, eponymous bar, Nanaimo’s culinary history is not widely renowned. A new museum exhibit created by two Vancouver Island University (VIU) History classes aims to alter that perception. During the Spring Semester, students from Dr. Chelsea Horton’s History of Vancouver Island class collaborated with Dr. Katharine Rollwagen’s Public History class to create the exhibit Beyond the Bar: Sampling Nanaimo’s Culinary Past. Rollwagen’s class designed the exhibit, including revising research reports, organizing the layout and developing a publicity plan, while Horton’s class undertook the major research that informs the exhibit. “This is a unique learning experience for history students,” said Johns.


New exhibit tackling Nanaimo’s food histories now open at the Nanaimo Museum.­­

Beyond its famous, eponymous bar, Nanaimo’s culinary history is not widely renowned. A new museum exhibit created by two Vancouver Island University (VIU) History classes aims to alter that perception.

During the Spring Semester, students from Dr. Chelsea Horton’s History of Vancouver Island class collaborated with Dr. Katharine Rollwagen’s Public History class to create the exhibit Beyond the Bar: Sampling Nanaimo’s Culinary Past. Rollwagen’s class designed the exhibit, including revising research reports, organizing the layout and developing a publicity plan, while Horton’s class undertook the major research that informs the exhibit.

“As a lifelong Nanaimo resident and food lover, researching the city’s historical gastronomy has been a real treat,” said student Samadhi Sukadana. “I hope guests join in our culinary curiosity and find something in the exhibit to chew on!”


Some of the students in Dr. Rollwagen's Public History class involved with the museum exhibit.

This is the first time that Horton has collaborated to produce an exhibit for the Nanaimo Museum.

“What a joy to walk with students as they each found their way into the broad yet fundamental topic of food, and to see how the diverse research reports they developed have informed the interconnected stories shared here. I’m proud of them all!” said Horton.

Several of Rollwagen’s past Public History classes have created exhibits for the Nanaimo Museum, including on Nanaimo’s experience of the Spanish flu and, most recently, on the history of Nanaimo’s unique road names.

“Students learn a lot about communicating and working collaboratively through the process of researching and designing an exhibit, while also discovering the histories of this place,” said Rollwagen. “We are fortunate to have such generous partners to work with at the Nanaimo Museum and Nanaimo Community Archives.”

In creating Beyond the Bar, Rollwagen’s students worked closely with Aimee Greenaway, Nanaimo Museum Curator, and Jordan Johns, Nanaimo Museum Exhibit Technician, to learn about the educational roles of museums and their responsibility to the historical record.

“This is a unique learning experience for history students,” said Johns. “By creating a community exhibit with their class they have the opportunity to learn from museum professionals in the exhibit development process. This gives the students insight into other history-related career paths by giving them solid experience and instruction.”

Through meeting with Sophie Maher, Nanaimo Museum’s General Manager, students have also been learning how museums work with artists. Beyond the Bar will feature an original artwork,

Moths Dancing Around the Moon, by Snuneymuxw artist Eliot White-Hill, Kwulasultun, which speaks to the human impact on the environment.

The hope is that by creating this exhibit about Nanaimo’s culinary history, the strong links that exist between food, culture and history will be highlighted and spur greater pride and interest in our city.

Borna Zargarian, a student in Rollwagen’s class, sees the educational value of the exhibit. “Food is such an important part of our lives, but we often don’t think about where it comes from. What did past Nanaimoites eat, and how did they access it? This exhibit should answer those questions.”

Beyond the Bar runs until June 26 in the Nanaimo Museum’s Community Gallery, which can be accessed for free through the foyer of the Museum. It will be open during the Museum’s regular hours, 10 am to 4 pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays.

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Media Contact:

Jenn McGarrigle, External Communications Manager, Vancouver Island University

C: 250.619.6860 | E: [email protected] | T: @VIUNews

The VIU community acknowledges and thanks the Snuneymuxw, Quw’utsun, Tla’amin, Snaw-naw-as and Qualicum First Nation on whose traditional lands we teach, learn, research, live and share knowledge.

The source of this news is from Vancouver Island University

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