Modern History Galleries

Century Hall

Designed to be explored

Designed at the end of the millennium as a visual tribute to the Royal BC Museum’s earlier home, these elegant turn-of-the-century cases present what appears to be an eclectic mix from our collections. If you look closely, you will find clusters on specific themes, such as portrayal of gender roles.  There are also threads of connected objects that show the history of sound, cameras, or the keyboard from the first typewriter to the computer. You may notice toys that taught children about adult work tools in different decades. Is this a random eclectic collection? You decide. The influences of our global experience are seen in our textile history and the evolution of local clothing designs. On the wall around, 10 decades are summarized with highlights (and lows) in a unique newspaper style format, each with its own unique image station. Who were these British Columbians and how has this society evolved?  It’s a room designed for exploration and sharing what you discover.

Old Town

Urban history

The resource economy could not exist without towns. Fire came and went. Wooden towns became brick. Commercial centres served as distribution points for commerce and people on the move and would later become modern cities. The muddy dockside streets in Victoria used wooden blocks until paving arrived. Occupations evolved as the blacksmiths and wheelwright of the horse economy became part of the age of the automobile. Coal, oil, gas and electric lighting came in quick sequences. Printers, telegraphers and retailers created the excitement with news of growth, changing fashion and the buildings symbolizing stability for new arrivals. Merchants imported goods and exported resources and prospered. So did hoteliers and public houses; railways changed everything with a flood of people and cheap goods.

Here you can walk and view detailed examples of our urban history, inspired and drawing upon our past. The Grand Hotel is based on Nanaimo’s Royal Hotel (1890), while the Salmon River Livery based on Esquimalt’s I.X.L. Livery (1900). Columbia Printers (1899) includes two of the oldest manual presses in BC history. Port Moody Railway Station includes the telegrapher’s shack, that global information wonder. Upstairs, the hotel bedroom displays a colonial couple newly retired from Asia and waiting for their new house to be built. Another room shows an importers office of the 1890s. Do you smell the cinnamon in the 1900s kitchen? Explore the lives and businesses in Victoria’s Chinatown, one of North America’s oldest.

HMS Discovery

Scientists and artists

Enter a full scale replica of Captain George Vancouver’s H.M.S. Discovery (built 1789). The earlier ship with this name was one of Captain Cook’s ships, upon which Vancouver first arrived at Yuquot or Friendly Cove in 1778. You are in the captain and senior staff’s cramped quarters, roomy compared to how the other one hundred crew members lived. The table served for meals, navigation, map making, scientific study, and surgery if needed. From 1792 until 1794, they lived in these small spaces.

The crew worked to complete coastal navigation charts begun by Captain Cook. Crew members almost forgotten are Lieutenant Zachariah Mudge, Lieutenant Peter Puget, and Lieutenant Joseph Baker. Yet Cape Mudge, Puget Sound, Mount Baker, and Vancouver Island remain.

Discovery’s crew included scientists such as Archibald Menzies and artists. They collected cultural information and made drawings showing the world the first glimpses of indigenous peoples. They built our first botanical science collections, observed birds, local fish and traded for furs. As you leave the ship you see Yuquot or Friendly Cove as seen by Cook and Vancouver and drawn by a ship’s artist. Nearby, look for displays on early maps of British Columbia’s coast, and the flags and uniforms of Nations who explored and claimed influence over the coast for Imperial and commercial reasons. Want more marine history? Try the gallery beside the maps.

Industries

Creating communities

Much of British Columbia’s history has been about the industrial and resource frontier and the communities that were created by the people who pursued those activities. Coal mining, a dangerous activity, began a century and a half ago and cases explore coal mining and rescue on Vancouver Island at the explosive coal mines of Cumberland and Nanaimo. The coal powered fleets of ships and railways.

Our mine exhibit looks at hard rock mining technology around Rossland using the historic LeRoi Mine (1903) in southeastern British Columbia. Air hoses power pneumatic drills to make bore holes for the dynamite used to blast rock loose. Carts carry the ore up through the darkness to the surface. Giant smelters used blast furnaces to separate out lead, zinc and silver.

Our sawmill exhibit shows a typical small two-person mobile railway tie mill used in the Rocky Mountain Trench. Tools show the shift from axes to crosscut saws, before the power saw. Detailed models show the large scale coastal logging industry. By 1910, high lead logging accelerated the pace of logging using a complex rigging off spar trees to clear cut or completely strip a hillside of trees. The intricate cabling system flew bundles of logs down the hillside to be yarded, then loaded on trains for transportation to water. There they were dumped and sorted into log booms and towed to distant sawmills.

Gold Rush

Gold on the Fraser River!

The reports in 1858 brought 20,000 miners from around the world, creating a brief Canyon War between American miners and First Nations. The conflict was resolved by the creation of a mainland Colony of British Columbia, with courts and military road construction. Placer miners shoveled and washed gravel looking for nuggets and gold dust in the gravel beds. This practice created ecological havoc for First Nations who relied on salmon, which spawned in gravel beds.

By the 1860s, gold was found in the East Kootenays and north in Barkerville. Cornish miners built water wheels for deep shaft work to lift gravel buckets and pump water out from the V-shaped valley bottom. It was here that the gold settled deep in the gravel beds below.

Other Gold Rushes followed such as Omineca and north to the Klondike. Explore our carefully guarded exhibit of different types of gold found in British Columbia.

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