Though the doors may be closed to the outside because of Covid-19 restrictions, the B.C. Vintage Truck Museum remains active inside.
“In a way, the pandemic has sort of been a blessing in disguise,” says museum vice-president Noel Cleveland.
“We now have a lot more free time to get caught up and get the trucks in better shape. We’ve probably increased the number [of trucks] that are running. Selected volunteers will come in, and each guy has a partner they work with that they’ve been working with since the start of the pandemic.”
Cleveland, who retired as the western Canada sales manager for Makita power tools, has counted himself as one of the volunteers for six years. But this past year has been undeniably different.
Like other attractions across Canada, the museum located in Surrey’s Cloverdale suburb shut its doors to the public in March 2020. It opened for four months in July, but closed to the public once again in November.
As positive as the experience has been behind the scenes, Cleveland knows the temporary closures have come at a price.
“This pandemic has hurt us pretty badly,” he says. “People kind of forget about you because of the pandemic. But as soon as we get our okay to open up, we’ll start trying to advertise and getting things in.”
Since opening in 2012, the B.C. Vintage Truck Museum has welcomed around 20,000 visitors from 33 countries. The non-profit organization that supports the collection has logged 60,000 volunteer hours and counting.
Members of the public can’t explore these trucks in person these days, but there is an online alternative. A virtual tour, which showcases the various trucks housed in the museum, is now hosted on the museum’s website. It’s attracting an audience, too.
“In the last two months or so we probably get about 20 to 30 phone calls a week asking us when we’re open because they want to come and see [the museum],” he says. “They’ve seen the virtual tours, and they would like to come and see the whole thing.”
Many of the vintage trucks in the museum originally came from the collection of Aubrey “Bob” King, a successful Vancouver trucking entrepreneur. They were locked away in warehouses in 1958, when King shut down his companies, but rediscovered in 1973 after his death. The collection was donated to the province of British Columbia and eventually used in the B.C. Transportation Museum until its closure in 1992, then it was off to the Teamster Freight Museum until 2010. Now, these historic trucks reside here.
The rarest of the collection is the 1935 Dodge Airflow. Of the 249 Airflow trucks built between 1934 and 1940, 29 were built for the Standard Oil Company. Only four remain, and this is the only one in Canada. Powered by a 100-horsepower inline-six engine, the Airflow carried a 1,275-gallon tank, delivering gasoline to local Chevron stations from 1935 to 1947.
Among other attractions is a 1910 White replica, the latest truck added to the museum. This delivery van is powered by a two-cylinder compound steam engine with a reproduction Stanley boiler.
A 1955 GMC Fire Truck donated by the Hope Fire Department also resides here. In 1955 it was driven from Montreal — where it was built by Thibault, a prominent Canadian Fire apparatus manufacturer — back to Hope, where it served in the area for decades.
All of the trucks and memorabilia—including period workshop tools, licence plates, and even gasoline pumps—were donated. And the support hasn’t ended there. To survive during the pandemic, the B.C. Vintage Truck Museum received significant donations from some of its members, along with a federal and a provincial grant.
“This helped us pay our utility bills,” says Anna Dean, president of the museum and the Surrey Heritage Society. “We worked hard to reduce our bills by changing out the lighting, installing thermostats to reduce the heating costs.”
Dean worked in transit for 35 years, retiring after the Winter Olympics in 2010 as the director of operations for Olympic transportation. She also worked as a transportation consultant for the 2012 Summer Olympics and Pan Am Games in Toronto in 2015.
“During the pandemic, we were still able to help others in the community that were less fortunate by taking part in the Cloverdale Kitchen food bank drive and the Christmas Hamper program,” she says.
Prior to the pandemic, the museum would host between 20 to 25 community events and participate in an average of 15 events each year. Many of those are limited these days, too.
In the meantime, there are ways to survive even in the midst of a prolonged pandemic.
“Fortunately, the movie industry is getting back up and running,” Dean says. “Our truck rentals to the movie industry will certainly help us through an extended lockdown.”