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Exploring the Past in British Columbia

Archaeology and History Sites in British Columbia

Barkerville Historic Town and Park

Located on the western edge of the Cariboo Mountains, the town of Barkerville played a seminal role in the Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s. Today, many of the historic 19th century structures still survive in situ, allowing visitors the chance to appreciate what Barkerville looked like in its heyday. As well as serving as a tourist attraction, with many places where visitors can stay, Barkerville remains home to a community of locals.

Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point

Canada has witnessed migration from East Asia since at least the 19th century. At Harling Point in Oak Bay, the Chinese Consolidate Benevolent Association established a cemetery for the region’s Chinese community in 1903. Many burials were moved here from their previous location. The cemetery remained in use until the 1950s but many of its gravestones remain. In 1996, the government declared the cemetery to be a National Historic Site of Canada.

Craigdarroch Castle

Completed in 1890, Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria is a palatial mansion erected as the home of the wealthy Scottish coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. Created in the Scottish Baronial style, its initial designer was Warren Heywood Williams, although his associate Arthur L. Smith completed the project following Williams’ death. The castle went through multiple uses over its life, including as a military hospital and then a school, before opening as a heritage attraction in 1979.

Fort Langley

Erected on land formerly inhabited by the Sto:lo people, Fort Langley was built in the 1820s as a fur trading base for the Hudson’s Bay Company. It remained in the company’s possession until the 1880s. In the mid-20th century, many of its buildings were recreated, enabling the National Historic Site to become a heritage attraction. Re-enactors dressed in period costume help visitors to immerse themselves in the past.

Fort St James

Also known as the Stuart Lake Post, Fort St James in Omineca Country started life in 1806, when the explorer and fur trader Simon Fraser established it for the North West Company. After that company was merged into the Hudson’s Bay Company, the fort came under the latter’s ownership in 1821. Have been recognised as a National Historic Site since 1948, it ceased operations as a fur trading base in 1952.

Gitayow Battle Hill National Historic Site

Formerly known as Kitwancool Fort, Gitayow Battle Hill National Historic Site marks the location of an 18th century earthwork fortification. The Gitxsan people used this to defend themselves during that period. The government has classified it as a National Historic Site since 1971. The battle hill lies close to the village of Gitwangax, formerly known as Kitwancool, which houses several historic totem poles and is also a National Historic Site.

Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site

The Gulf of Georgia in Steveston is a salmon cannery that operated in Steveston during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Opened in 1894, it rose to become the largest producer of canned salmon in the province, employing individuals from a broad range of ethnic groups, including indigenous, European, and East Asian workers. It closed as a factory in 1979 although now operates as a heritage attraction and National Historic Site.

Marpole Midden

One of the great archaeological sites of British Columbia, the Marpole Midden began life as a winter village used by Coast Salish people during the Marpole Culture which existed around 400 BCE to 500 CE. The midden was discovered during development in 1884, since which time it has undergone several excavations that have revealed more about its age. Located in Victoria, it stands in territory traditionally inhabited by the Musqueam people.

Skedans

Part of the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, Skedans, which is also known as Ḵ’uuna Llnagaay, is a village inhabited by members of the Haida community. Skedans was at its heyday in the 19th century, when it housed around 30 longhouses and 50 monumental timber sculptures. Some of these still survive, allowing visitors to gain an appreciate of the rich Haida heritage of this settlement.

SS Moyie

The SS Moyie is a paddle steamer that operated a passenger service on Kootenay Lake between 1898 and 1957. After it ceased being used for this function, the vessel’s owners sold it to the town of Kaslo for one Canadian dollar. Since then it has been docked in the town and used as a heritage attraction, maintained by the Kootenay Lake Historical Society, who boast that the SS Moyie is the world’s oldest intact passenger sternwheeler.

Museums in British Columbia

Britannia Mine Museum

Visitors to the Britannia Mine Museum in Britannia Beach can discover more about the role of the mining industry in the history of British Columbia. Opened in the 1970s, the museum occupies the area of a former copper mine and allows visitors to travel through an old haulage tunnel on an early 20th century train. The museum oversees over 20 different buildings at the site and houses a collection of over 700 artefacts and nearly 10,000 photographs.

Burnaby Village Museum

Step back in time at Burnaby Village Museum as you are transported to the recreation of a 1920s Canadian settlement. Over 30 structures have been erected across this open-air museum, populated by re-enactors dressed in period costume. Visitors can also enjoy riding on an original C. W. Parker carousel built in 1912. Launched in 1971, the museum has since been used as a set for television programs set in times gone by.

Fort Steele Heritage Town

Fort Steele Heritage Town is an open-air museum that tries to recreate the appearance of this gold rush boomtown as it existed in the late 19th century. Over 98 historic buildings can be found at the settlement, some having been moved here from other parts of British Columbia. Displays on the history of the town can be found inside the Wasa Hotel Museum, while various tradesmen and women can be observed creating traditional crafts.

U’mista Cultural Centre

The U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay focuses on the cultural heritage of the Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw people. Launched in 1980, it has a broad range of artefacts in its collection, many linked to potlach ceremonies, and discusses past government attempts to suppress traditional culture. The centre also includes contemporary indigenous artworks, hosts performances by traditional dance troupes, and supports researchers exploring Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw culture.

Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver

Founded in 1947, the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia is internationally renowned for its collections from around the World. Although primarily an ethnographic museum there are also over five hundred thousand archaeological artefacts in the collection, many from the northwest coast of Canada. The museum is set in a sensitively landscaped garden, that contains many indigenous plants as well as two Haida houses and totem poles.

Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Burnaby

Run by the Simon Fraser University, the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Burnaby brings together a wealth of artefacts that should interest archaeological explorers. A particular focus is the material heritage of British Columbia, and it boasts a range of monumental cedar sculptures produced by indigenous communities from this region as well as prehistoric artefacts recovered from excavations at Namu. Various temporary exhibits supplement the permanent collection.

Museum of Northern BC

Overlooking the harbour at Prince Rupert, the Museum of Northern BC showcases a range of historic artworks and other artefacts from the province. Its focus is on the material culture of indigenous communities living along the Pacific Northwest coast. Established in 1924, the museum occupies a large cedar longhouse akin to those that have been built in this region for many centuries. The museum has also played an important role in encouraging research.

Museum of Vancouver

Those interested in the history of the most populous city in British Columbia must check out the Museum of Vancouver. Founded in 1894, it is the city’s oldest museum and now occupies a specially built structure erected in 1967. The museum’s collection is diverse and includes a range of materials linked to the indigenous peoples of British Columbia, as well as artefacts deriving from East Asia, from Ancient Egypt, and from Vancouver’s modern history.

Nisga’a Museum

Nisga’a Museum in the village of Laxgalts’ap devotes itself to the cultural heritage of the Nisg̱a’a indigenous people. It opened in 2011, showcasing a rich array of over 300 artefacts from the Pacific Northwest. Many of these items were previously dispersed among collectors elsewhere in the world before being recovered by the Nisg̱a’a in recent decades; they are now placed on display in the Anhooya’ahl Ga’angigatgum’ – the Ancestors’ Collection.

Royal British Columbia Museum

Exploring 9,000 years of human history, the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria launched in 1886. Its collection encompasses around 7 million objects, including artefacts the Haida and other indigenous peoples, archaeological objects recovered during excavations around the province, and artefacts associated with the European settlement of the region. Various temporary exhibitions supplement the main collection.

Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park

The Secwepemc Museum and Heritage Park in Kamloops explores the history and culture of the 17 different bands who have long inhabited Secwépemc land. Among the displays at the museum are a full-size replicate of the traditional winter structures built in this area, an ethnobotanical garden drawing on local medicinal practices, and an archaeological site with various earthworks reflecting past habitation of the site.

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