Arts
Features

How a former museum director’s Lego hobby became Sidney Museum’s biggest revenue generator

Sidney Museum’s long-running winter Lego exhibition back for 17th year

By Michael John Lo
February 24, 2023
Arts
Features

How a former museum director’s Lego hobby became Sidney Museum’s biggest revenue generator

Sidney Museum’s long-running winter Lego exhibition back for 17th year

By Michael John Lo
Feb 24, 2023
Robin Sather puts together a piece of the roof for the Lego replica of the Harvester King, the first ferry that linked Sidney to Anacortes. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily
Robin Sather puts together a piece of the roof for the Lego replica of the Harvester King, the first ferry that linked Sidney to Anacortes. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily
Arts
Features

How a former museum director’s Lego hobby became Sidney Museum’s biggest revenue generator

Sidney Museum’s long-running winter Lego exhibition back for 17th year

By Michael John Lo
February 24, 2023
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How a former museum director’s Lego hobby became Sidney Museum’s biggest revenue generator
Robin Sather puts together a piece of the roof for the Lego replica of the Harvester King, the first ferry that linked Sidney to Anacortes. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily

On a cloudy Monday morning, a line of families and kids were outside the Sidney Museum, waiting for their turn to look at the dioramas in the museum’s 17th annual Lego exhibition.

Inside, the museum was already filled to the brim with excited children and their families helping put together a Lego mosaic depicting a Peninsula Co-Op petroleum truck under the direction of one of Canada’s only professional Lego builders.

Over the Family Day weekend, the museum attracted nearly 2,000 visitors—a number higher than the entire museum visitor count of the previous February.

“It was extremely busy, but I thought it went really well. I’m very happy with how everything went,” said the museum’s executive director Michael Goodchild, adding that the weekend visitors were very understanding about building occupancy limits.

The exhibit is well supported by the community: Peninsula Co-Op is a frequent sponsor and about a dozen stores on Beacon Avenue participate in a museum-organized Lego scavenger hunt that runs over the Family Day weekend. The entire lego-themed spectacle makes it one  of the busiest times of the year for the Sidney Museum in an otherwise slow winter season.

A few blocks away, the Victoria Lego Users Group also held its own extensive Lego exhibition at the Sidney Pier Hotel in conjunction with Family Day festivities. In the past, the group would take over a display case within the museum. It’s grown larger over the years.

Now, hundreds of thousands of carefully assembled blocks take over an entire conference room, a miniature, zoning-defying Lego city filled with cacophonous Lego trains and other moving parts that co-creator Ted Godwin cheerfully dubs as “Bricktoria.”

When a group of excited kids come into the room to view his creation, Godwin smiles.

“This is why we do it, right? These little kids who walk in and just get stunned. They just stop and their eyes just go wide.”

Sidney Museum’s Lego exhibit—which takes up two out of five storage rooms belonging to the museum—came about from a previous museum head’s personal affinity with toy bricks. The former long standing executive director Peter Garnham and his family were avid Lego collectors.

“For fun, more than anything else, [it began as] a pop-up Lego display,” Goodchild recalls.

The Lego exhibition attracts a crowd—families with young children—that wouldn’t normally come to a small 4,750 sq. foot community museum like Sidney’s, said Goodchild. “Now, 17 years later, it’s actually become one of the museum’s best revenue generating activities.”

The Victoria Lego Users Group's temporary exhibit of
"Bricktoria" inside the Sidney Pier Hotel over the Family Day weekend. Photo: Michael John Lo / Capital Daily

Some of the popularity is thanks to Robin Sather, one of two certified professional Lego builders in Canada. Sather was at the museum this weekend to build a replica of the first ferry that served Sidney and its surrounding communities. The vessel was a repurposed kelp harvester that was converted into a car ferry going between Sidney and Anacortes in 1922.

The ride was ten times more affordable than the alternative Vancouver- Victoria route at the time and marked an important milestone in Sidney’s development when it established a transport link to Anacortes, said Sharon Stoneman of the Sidney Sister Cities Association.
“Any chance I get to build something different and new and unusual, I always jump at it,” Sather said while putting together the ferry’s lego roof. “It’s about capturing a pivotal moment in Sidney’s history.”

Sather has been putting together large Lego builds for the Sidney museum for more than a decade, when he’s not travelling around the world to participate in Lego-related events.

“I just came as a patron,” Sather recalls of his first visit. “People would say that there’s this museum that’s full of Lego and I’m like, ‘Wow, okay. I’ve got to check it out.”

Sather would connect with Garnham over their mutual appreciation of Lego and eventually become part of the exhibit itself, building large elaborate Lego pieces at the museum.

“The first year was an incredible success, and we just kept carrying on,” Sather said.

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