Located in Victoria, British Columbia, the Royal British Columbia Museum offers a variety of exhibits showcasing the natural and social history of the province. The Royal British Columbia Museum was founded in 1886, originally opened within a single room in the city’s Capitol Building. It was later housed within a former courthouse building before being moved to the west wing of the city’s Legislative Buildings in 1898.
In 1913, as part of the Museum Act, the museum was granted formal operating authority, and in 1921, the museum expanded into the basement of the Legislative Buildings’ east wing. An outdoor space, known as Thunderbird Park, was added to the facility in 1941, intended as a display space for totem poles from the museum’s collection, but by the 1950s, the outdoor conditions had already caused significant deterioration to the structures. Original totem poles were moved back inside, with replicas replacing them the park today. A new museum building was constructed in the late 1960s to accommodate growing collections, with the museum opening to the public in its current home in 1968.
In 1979, the museum’s first natural history exhibition opened, signaling the beginning of the museum’s dual mission. Following the new Museum Act of 2003, the Royal British Columbia Museum and Thunderbird Park joined together with the British Columbia Provincial Archives, the Netherlands Carillon, and the St. Anne’s Schoolhouse and Helmcken House historic buildings to form the Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation. Today, the buildings of the the corporation make up the cultural precinct of Victoria.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
The Royal British Columbia Museum is divided into two sections, focusing on natural and cultural history. The Natural History section of the museum showcases over 750,00 specimens, primarily discovered within the province of British Columbia and the surrounding area. Collection holdings are divided into the fields of botany, entomology, herbology, ichthyology, invertebrate zoology, mammalogy, ornithology, and paleontology. Within the Natural History Gallery, displays focus on the past, present, and future of wildlife in British Columbia. An Ice Age area features fossils that are over 80 million years old, along with murals and recreations depicting prehistoric times. In the Coastal Forest and Fraser River Delta displays, dioramas portray contemporary life in the regions with a focus on preservation and conservation, while Ocean Station and Seashore exhibits feature live animals from the waters of British Columbia in interactive displays. A Climate Rules exhibit also presents educational displays on the potential effects of climate change within the region over the next century.
The museum’s Human History section contains two distinct areas: the Modern History Galleries and the First People’s Galleries. A Century Hall exhibit is designed in the style of the museum’s early home in the Capitol Building and features artifacts from the 20th century, including toys, clothing, tools, and electronics. Urban history is the focus of the Old Town exhibit, a walkthrough that allows visitors to explore replicas of turn-of-the-century buildings and businesses from Victoria’s Chinatown neighborhood. The H.M.S. Discovery, a full-scale nautical replica of Captain George Vancouver's 1789 craft, is a walkthrough exhibit dedicated to the marine history of the British Columbian coast. In the Industries exhibit, models explore three early industries that shaped the region: coal mining, logging, and saw mills. A Gold Rush exhibit also features types of gold found along the Fraser River and details the impact of the 1858 Gold Rush on the region.
The First People’s Galleries, opened 1n 1977, showcase over 10,00 years of history of the indigenous nations of British Columbia. Since 2010, the museum has been working with First Nations groups to return some of its sacred and cultural artifacts collections to their original tribal ownership. Today’s galleries are reflective of work with First Nations groups and the impact of Canada’s announcement of support for the May 2016 UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
A Totem Hall exhibit displays the artistry of historic large-scale pole and post carvings of Northwest Coast First Nations people, as well as modern masks and other carving works from contemporary Indigenous artists. A Nisga'a, People of the Nass River exhibit is dedicated to the tribe’s history along the Ness River, including the reclamation of their ancestral lands and declaration of their right of self-government in 2000. A walkthrough ceremonial house, the Jonathan Hunt House, presents an authentic Kwakwaka‘wakw chief home, while a Kekuli Pit House exhibit models the winter homes of the Secwepemc people. A Haida Argillite Carving exhibit features over 150 carving works donated to the museum in 1978 and represents the history of argillite carving among the Haida people. An Our Living Languages exhibit also focuses on the language diversity of British Columbia, allowing visitors to hear over 34 indigenous languages at multimedia exhibit stations.
Ongoing Programming and Education
The Royal British Columbia Museum is home to the IMAX Victoria, which offers current theatrical releases and educational films presented in conjunction with museum exhibits. Tickets may be purchased for individual movies or as part of a package with museum admission. The IMAX Victoria can also accommodate school groups, allowing eductors to select from its library of past offerings to pair with current curriculum for field trips. An annual film festival is hosted at the facility, presenting five weeks of documentary offerings.
The museum offers a variety of educational programs for participants of all ages. Children’s programs include day camps, museum sleepovers, family Sunday afternoons, and a kid’s club that offers museum membership cards and perks for young visitors. Adult programming includes a lecture series, discussion nights, museum happy hours, adult camps, themed outdoor field trips, lunchtime talks, and senior citizen group activities.
675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC V8W 9W2, Canada, Phone: 250-356-7226