Located in Victoria, British Columbia, the Point Ellice House preserves the former home of socialites Peter and Caroline O’Reilly, open to the public as a living history home museum for public tours and private special event rentals.
Born in Ireland, Peter O’Reilly was an early immigrant and civic figure in the future Province of British Columbia, then a colony of Great Britain. As one of the colony’s most prominent civic leaders, O’Reilly is most noted for his development of the O’Reilly Commission, which formed the basis of the province’s present-day Indian Reserve system. He also served as one of the province’s earliest-elected Gold Commissioners and Judges, overseeing the Rock Creek Mining District. O’Reilly married Caroline Trutch, the sister of the province’s future first Lieutenant-Governor Joseph Trutch, in 1863, and in 1867, in advance of the birth of their first child, Kathleen, O’Reilly purchased an 1861 Italianate-style bunaglow from Charles W. Wallace for a price of $2,500.
Over the course of the 1870s and 1880s, O’Reilly renovated and enlarged the house, creating an asymmetrical floor plan and adding several outbuildings, including a barn and shed, greenhouse, boat house, and carriage house. Throughout the late 19th century, the house, known as the Point Ellice House, became one of the most prominent socialite centers in the colony, as the O’Reillys frequently hosted British Columbian dignitaries and civic leaders for tea, tennis, croquet, and other social activities. The home remained in the O’Reilly family for more than a century before it was sold to the province in 1975 by O’Reilly’s grandson, John. The following year, it was designated as a Canadian National Historic Site.
Attractions and Tours
Today, Point Ellice House is owned and operated as a British Columbia Heritage Property, administered by the Point Ellice House Preservation Society. As a nonprofit organization, the Preservation Society is overseen by a board of directors, with daily house operations run by a volunteer staff. The home, which is located along the Gorge waterway near the site of the 1896 Point Ellice Bridge Disaster, is considered to be one of the finest examples of British Picturesque styling in North America, featuring Italianate villa architectural styling elements such as bay windows, pillared verandas, and gables. Many of the O’Reilly family’s original belongings, including original armoires, harps, writing desks, and family clothing, have been preserved and are arranged throughout the house to evoke its Victorian styling at the turn of the 20th century.
Guided tours of the Point Ellice House are available to the public on weekends between June and September, with special tour appointments available during the off season. All tours include exploration of all the home’s rooms and anecdotes about their furnishings and former occupants, as well as exploration of the house’s grounds and historic garden facility. Volunteer gardeners maintain the home’s garden, which features plantings of flowers such as heritage roses and hollyhocks, along with a kitchen garden for culinary herbs and a landscaped heart-shaped flower bed. Pathways throughout the grounds lead through a small forest area, which showcases linden, arbutus, and chestnut trees. Audio home tours are also available during times when tour guides are not on site, and the home’s grounds are open to the public for free for self-guided exploration during regular hours of operation.
In addition to standard guided tours, an Afternoon Tea is presented at the home’s Secret Tea and Vintage Shoppe on Saturdays and Sundays from September through December. Three daily afternoon teas are offered, with traditional tea sandwiches, scones, beverages, and desserts provided by Truffles Catering. All tea reservations and prepayment must be made at least two days in advance of tea date by contacting the Vintage Shoppe via phone or email. Reduced home tour admission is offered for all afternoon tea participants. A variety of gifts and souvenirs are also sold on weekends at the Secret Vintage Shoppe, including historical books, heritage plants, and home decor and accessories.
Ongoing Programs and Events
The Point Ellice House may be rented for private special events, including weddings, receptions, family reunions, and business gatherings. Three site packages are available for private rental, including the home’s Upstairs Loft area, which offers seating for up to 40 event guests. The Gorge-View Lawn area of the home’s grounds is offered for large groups of up to 150, while the Secret Tea and Vintage Shoppe’s dining and event area seats up to 25 guests in an intimate setting. Full home and grounds rental packages are also offered for large events, and grand tea catering packages and pre-planning services with the Society’s Coordinator of Visitor Services are available to add onto all rental packages.
2616 Pleasant St, Victoria, BC V8T 4V3, Canada, Phone: 250-380-6506