Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, collectors from around the world were traveling to Canada’s west coast to retrieve indigenous artifacts. They were purchasing these items in large quantities and residents became concerned at the mass exodus of cultural heritage leaving the province. In 1886 a petition for the establishment of a museum was signed by 30 prominent Victorian citizens. This led to the foundation of the first Royal BC Museum located in the Birdcages (the former legislature buildings). The first curator was John Fannin, a renowned taxidermist who created many of the animals still on display today. Over the next 12 years, the museum moved twice, first to the former supreme court building, the to the East wing of the current Legislative Building. In 1913 the Museum Act, giving the museum formal operating authority and defining its objectives. From this act, the museum expanded exponentially over the next 30 years, continued to expand and attract increasing numbers of visitors. By the early 1960s, the need for a large space was clear, and in 1963 plans were announced for the building of the current Royal BC Museum. Three years later the building was complete and staff, artifacts, and archives had been transferred to its new location. The museum has continued to change and expand over the years, continuing to provide a valuable educational resource to the people of Victoria and anyone else lucky enough to visit.
On November 18th, 2016 as part of the Historic Maa-nulth First Nations Final Agreement, the Huu-ay-aht reclaimed some cultural heritage and art from the museum in physical and legal transfer. Seventeen cultural treasures were brought home for a ceremonial welcome and displayed for Huu-ay-aht in citizens in Port Alberni at their annual Peoples Assembly. In total, 51 treasures were returned in the agreement, 34 remaining at the museum available for transfer upon First Nations request. This is an important step in Canada’s attempt for truth and reconciliation for the crimes committed against indigenous peoples and their culture.
Royal BC Museum (2021). “History of the Museum”. Retrieved from https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/about/museum-information/history-museum
Royal BC Museum (2021). “The Return of Cultural Treasures to Huu-ay-aht First Nations”. Retrieved from https://royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/about/museum-information/history-museum
Royal BC Museum (2013) “This Week In History Ep. 11 – The Petition for a Museum”[YouTube video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOaFX31fMN4&ab_channel=RoyalBCMuseum
Royal BC Museum (2016) “This Week in History Season 4 Episode 27 How the Royal BC Museum came to be”[YouTube video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvobsNmnCdk&ab_channel=RoyalBCMuseum