The Royal British Colulmbia Museum

Many museums have snack shops or cafeterias. How many have a British tea room that offers catering services? I know of one economical tea room that’s attached to probably the best local or state museum in the world. The Royal British Columbia Museum is a show piece. It’s informative, attractive, changing, relaxing, and comfortable. Many of the innovative and interesting displays of artifacts are within easy reach of straying hands. I asked a guard if they had problems with vandalism or theft. “No, never,” was his simple incredulous reply.

It’s a people’s museum and the people have responded in a big way. The directors of The Royal British Columbia Museum expected a couple hundred thousand visitors per year. They now host over a million. To cut back on the onslaught and help reduce the government subsidy, the museum began charging a fee that has risen from $5 Canadian to $14. There is a yearly pass for $35 that is great for locals and anyone planning a repeat visit. There are also combo tickets which include the IMAX Theater.

On the evening of January 14, 1886, a group of 30 influential citizens met in Victoria and formulated a petition to the Provincial Government to create a museum. By October that year, the museum was opened in a 15 by 20 foot room. It took four more moves until the museum opened its present complex in 1968. One block across from the harbor, the Empress Hotel, and the bus depot, the museum is convenient for ferry passengers from the U.S. and bus travelers from mainland British Columbia.

A new and wondrous era began in 1968 when the Museum Act was amended to include modern history in the museum’s mandate. Until that time, the museum had concentrated entirely on efforts “to preserve specimens of the natural products and Indian antiquities and manufactures of the Province and to classify and exhibit the same for the information of the public.”

Dr. Bristol Foster’s vision and planning has created a “ring of time as an organic structure.” Artifacts are displayed in a recreation of their own environments. There is a late 19th Century British Columbia street scene which includes a theater, drug store, hotel, train depot, bar, and many other rooms and shops. My favorite scene is a kitchen with flour on the floor and the smell of fresh baked bread in the air.

The first stage in the new natural history galleries of the Royal British Columbia Museum opened in 1979. It is the Living Land, Living Sea exhibit with full-scale representations of the sea shore and forest environments in British Columbia. The mix of stuffed animals, sounds, water, trees, rocks, and painted backgrounds are blended with true artistic brilliance that transports the visitor to a mountain stream or ocean tidal pool. A woman next to me (obviously a city person) commented that she’d be frightened to spend the night in the museum. It was a bit too realistic for her. I’ve been to museums from Christchurch to Salzburg, and this display in British Columbia remains unsurpassed in beauty, skill, and imagination in presentation.

Everything about this museum lends itself to relaxed contemplation and enjoyment. Need time and space to rest? Each floor has a separate lounge with exterior glass walls which provide you a wonderful view of Victoria harbor. Of course, the ground floor tea room offers a clan spot to sip a cup of tea and munch a scone or two. It’s lucky the prices in the tea room are so economical. Saves you money to spend in the attached bookstore and gift shop.

The Royal British Columbia Museum is opoen 7 days a week from 9-5 at 676 Belleville St., Victoria, B.C.

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