September 2-11, 2004
co-sponsored by the Victorian Society in America and the Victorian Society Summer Schools Alumni Association
A Personal Reminiscence
by Bruce Davies, VSA Vice-President
The British Columbia Study Tour co-sponsored by the Victorian Society in America and the Victorian Society Summer Schools Alumni Association held September 2-11, 2004 was a resounding success.
During the tour, forty-eight participants heard expert commentary from John Adams, a B.C. historian, author, and museologist. The educational content of the program was mirrored by some of the most magnificent scenery on the globe.
The experience started in Vancouver (population 2,000,000) with Adams lecturing on the history of western Canada from 15,000 BC to 1900 AD. Reference was made to planned stops on the tour.
In Vancouver, various parks, gardens, commercial and residential districts were examined. Historic Chinatown intrigued many. There was also great appreciation for the Marine Building, an art deco masterpiece once the tallest building in the British Commonwealth. The Marine Building features multi-colored terra cotta by Gladding, McBean & Company (their Seattle area branch) and bas-relief tiles by Batchfelder Tile Company of Los Angeles.
Later at the University of B.C.’s Museum of Anthropology, Dr. Carol Mayer, Curator, explained the significance Walter C. Koerner collection of European ceramics. The group then explored the museum’s remarkable First Nations collections.
Much of B.C.’s recent human history centers on extraction of natural resources (beaver and otter fir, fishing, lumber, and mining). John Adams’ tour program reflected this. From Vancouver, the coach followed the mighty Fraser River east and north. In the late 1850s, this same waterway was followed by thousands – primarily Americans – fixated on the Cariboo Gold Rush. At Hell’s Gate, our participants descended via sky-tram to the raging river torrent that stymied the gold seeker’s quest to reach the gold fields.
The coach followed the old Cariboo wagon road as far north as Barkerville, the historic town at the center of one of the largest gold discoveries in Canadian history. Along the way, Hat Creek Ranch revealed an authentic 19th century roadhouse and farm that operated until 1974. Many original buildings remain; complete with intact wallpapers and surface finishes. This was merely a taste of what was to come at Barkerville, where architecture and atmosphere combined to captivate our group.
Next came the Canadian Rockies - Jasper, Lake Louise, and Banff. Two nights were spent at the lavish Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel (below), an enormous property built by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1888 and renovated in 1911 and 1928. It is now a federally designated Canadian National Historic Site.
Exploration of Canada’s Rockies by Victorian tourists began in 1886 when the CPR completed its transcontinental line. The railway hired artists to paint the mountain scenery and then lured Canadian and American clientele to the new resort hotels.
While in Banff, our group of Victorians visited some fascinating small museums. The Whyte Museum featured an exhibition titled, “Wish You Were Here”. Through late 19th century costume, documents, scientific instruments, and superb photographs, the Vaux family of Philadelphia’s passion for study of the ‘Canadian Alps’ was explored.
Nearby was the Banff Park Museum, founded in 1895 and re-built in 1903. The museum remains unchanged – in essence a museum of a museum. Many of its natural history dioramas were part of Canada’s effort at 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Banff Park Museum, paneled in quarter-sawn Douglas fir, the museum was deemed a firetrap in the late 1950s, and ordered destroyed by the Parks Service. But it was saved, and is now a protected Canadian National Historic Site.
This is just a small sample of what was experienced in British Columbia and Alberta.