Royal BC Museum
Founded in 1886 under the care of the first curator John Fannin and located in a single room in the Capitol Buildings, the Royal British Columbia Museum has humble beginnings. In 1913, the provincial government proclaimed the Museum Act, giving the museum formal operating authority and defining its objectives. The museum bounced around from home to home, ever growing in its prominence and by 1961, estimated annual attendance had reached 100,000. The province recognized that the time had come to expand the museum, and in 1963 Premier Bennett announced plans to build a new museum and archives as a Canadian centennial project. Three years later, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother dedicated the cornerstone for the current museum exhibits building. In 1969, the second museum building, the Fannin Tower, was finished. Growing from strength to strength, the museum was merged with the Archives in 2003, which at the time was a 109-year-old organization. Today, the combined organization is home to approximately 7 million objects and strives to share the story of the region with the almost 1 million visitors that wander its halls each year.
A nod to the OG
The Museum’s website makes an effort to recognize and acknowledge those who originally called the region their home. In fact, one of the reasons noted by the original petitioners for the museum, was that European and American museums were appropriating and exporting First Nations artifacts. I do not know enough about the indigenous folks of the region and therefore am not going to attempt to write about them here. However, I believe it is important to at least recognize how they may have been wronged by settlers in the past and learn a little about these nations as they stand today. For those of you that are interested, I recommend starting at the “History of the Territory” section of the Museum’s website.
What you can expect to see
As of September 2019, these are the permanent galleries at the Royal BC Museum:
Natural History Gallery
The natural history gallery contains information, artifacts, and life-sized displays of the diverse geography of the province from prehistoric times to present day. There is a range of fossils and taxidermic specimens, and a tide pool that contains live crabs, limpids, and starfish, among constructed specimens. More recently, a section on climate was added to the Natural History gallery, including information on the effects of modern climate change. Visitors may also view the Ocean Station in this gallery, a mock Victorian-era submarine that houses a 360-litre aquarium.
First Peoples Gallery
The First Peoples gallery contains a large collection of First Nations artifacts. Many of the artifacts in the gallery are from the Haida people. Artifacts in the First Peoples Gallery include a village model, as well as indigenous totem poles, and masks. Notably, the gallery maintains the long house of Chief Kwakwabalasami, a Kwakwaka’wakw chief from Tsaxis. The house and surrounding carvings were created by his son, Henry Hunt, and his grandsons. An exhibit of artist Bill Reid’s argillite carvings are also available for viewing. The gallery has been criticized by indigenous scholars for its portrayal of First Nations people, and its use of controversial images and film from Edward Curtis. In 2010, many of the museum’s Nisga’a artifacts were returned to the Nisga’a people and now reside in the Nisga’a Museum in northwestern British Columbia.
Modern History Gallery
The Modern History gallery begins with “Century Hall,” a collection of artifacts and replicas of BC’s history over the last 200 years. Visitors pass into “Old Town,” a life-sized model of Victoria in the 1870s–1920s. Old Town was designed and constructed between 1969 and 1972, and presents twenty separate building displays of various scales, including a replica of a cobblestone streetscape of early twentieth-century Victoria. Towards the end, the display shifts to a tour of early forestry, fishing, and mining industries. Also within the Modern History gallery is an exploration narrative containing models of the original Fort Victoria, a Port Moody train station, the 1902 Tremblay Homestead and a large-scale replica of Captain George Vancouver’s ship, the HMS Discovery.
In addition to the standing exhibits, the museum plays host to a variety of visiting exhibits. Checkout their website to learn more about these prior to your visit.
Plan your visit
The Museum is open every day during the Summer (mid-May to mid-October). Summer hours are 10am – 5pm Sunday through Thursday and 10am – 10pm Friday and Saturday. It is open 10am – 5pm every day of the Winter apart from Christmas and New Year’s.
It is centrally located right on Belleville Street minutes from the Empress Hotel, the BC Parliament Buildings and the Victoria Harbor.
The Museum offers a variety of ticket options, but below are the prices for a single day’s visit in September 2019:
- Adult (19+): $26.95
- Senior (65+): $18.95
- Student (19+ w/ID): $18.95
- Youth (6-18): $16.95
- Child (3-5): FREE
Recommending a length of visit for a museum is a bit of a fool’s errand as it really is up to each individual visitor. But, I’m going to take a shot at it anyway and say that you should plan for 2-4 hours at the least to make your visit worthwhile.
I must confess that my visit to the Royal BC Museum didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I started my visit at the special exhibit at the time, and perhaps was jaded by what I thought was its incompleteness. Also, Victoria as a whole, was absolutely beautiful at the time of my visit and even though I enjoy learning and discovering new things in museums, missing a day out in the gorgeous Victoria sunshine and ocean breeze didn’t feel like a worthy tradeoff at the time.
That being said, I would still recommend a visit to this Victorian institution especially if you’ve already taken in the rest of Victoria or find that there are a few hours of bad weather to make use of.
Want to learn more about Victoria?
Here’s who helped
While I ONLY write about places that I have visited, I get more information on these places from others, both for my edification and yours. Here are the online resources I used when writing this post.
- Royal BC Museum: https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/
- Dictionary of Canadian Biography: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio.php?id_nbr=6703
- CBC News – “Victoria, Ottawa Museums Return Nisga’a Artifacts”: https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/ottawa-victoria-museums-return-nisga-a-artifacts-1.892146?ref=rss