This excellent museum, one of Victoria's leading attractions, traces several thousand years of British Columbian history. Especially strong is its First Peoples Gallery, home to a genuine Kwakwaka'wakw big house and a dramatically displayed collection of masks and other artifacts. The Environmental History Gallery traces B.C.'s natural heritage, from prehistory to modern-day climate change, in realistic dioramas. An Ocean Station exhibit gets kids involved in running a
Jules Verne–style submarine. In the Modern History Gallery, a replica of Captain Vancouver's HMS Discovery creaks convincingly, and a re-created frontier town comes to life with cobbled streets, silent movies, and the rumble of an arriving train. An IMAX theater presents films on a six-story-tall screen.
Optional one-hour tours, included in the admission price, run roughly twice a day in summer and less frequently in winter. Most focus on a particular gallery, though the 90-minute Highlights Tour touches on all galleries. Special exhibits, usually held between April and October, attract crowds despite the higher admission prices. Skip (sometimes very long) ticket lines by booking online.
The museum complex has several more interesting sights, beyond the expected gift shop and café. In front of the museum, at Government and Belleville streets, is the Netherlands Centennial Carillon. With 62 bells, it's the largest bell tower in Canada; the Westminster chimes ring out every hour, and free recitals are occasionally held on Sunday afternoons. Behind the main building, bordering Douglas Street, are the grassy lawns of Thunderbird Park, home to 10 totem poles (carved replicas of originals that are preserved in the museum). One of the oldest houses in B.C., Helmcken House (Open late May–early Sept., daily noon–4) was built in 1852 for pioneer doctor and statesman John Sebastian Helmcken. Inside are displays of the family's belongings, including the doctor's medical tools. Behind it is St. Ann's School House, built in 1858. One of British Columbia's oldest schools, it is thought to be Victoria's oldest building still standing. Both buildings are part of the Royal British Columbia Museum.
675 Belleville St., Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 1A1, Canada
250-356–7226; 888-447–7977; 877-480–4887-theater show times
Dec 8, 2008
We spent almost an entire day here with our eight year old daughter. Like any museum, some things grabbed our attention (like all the First Nation dwellings and totems), others just nudged us. If you enjoy history (and not just the military stuff), you'll love it and come out with a phenomenal understanding of British Columbia!