Around Town: Museum explores the bonds of families

It was storytime at the Royal B.C. Museum on Wednesday night, but there wasn’t a child in sight apart from those seen in displays that include an unidentified young girl in a hand-coloured photograph from 1910.

“I wonder who she was, or is?” a nattily attired guest wondered as a black-tie crowd inched past a collection of rare costumes, objects and letters reflecting B.C. history as personified by its families.

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Plenty of stories were told at the gala celebrating the opening of Family: Bonds and Belonging, the museum’s new exhibition running in tandem with its exhibit on Terry Fox and his family.

The predominant theme is that families can be defined in many ways — such as First Nations families, single-parent, same-sex parent and blended families — and how all are affected by life in B.C.

Indeed, one half-expected someone to start singing We Are Family to bring it all into sharp focus, but museum CEO Jack Lohman did something even better.

Delivered with his trademark eloquence and enthusiasm in between greeting a steady stream of philanthropists, community and business leaders and politicians, he painted a picture of the exhibition with words.

“I said: ‘Let’s have a walk through a family album of British Columbia, where you actually walk into the pages of a family album. This is a move away from that two-dimensional way of presenting history.”

Many items at the exhibition (curated, conceived and designed in-house) have never been shown before, he said — from the costume and portrait collections, to a rare, painted argillite figure of Amor de Cosmos.

One of many fascinating displays recounts the story of Aaron H. Devor, UVic transgender studies research chair, and his wife Lynn Greenhough, whom he married twice.

The first time was their controversial same-sex marriage in 1992, conducted by Rabbi Victor Reinstein after he deliberated for a year.

“It was somewhat historic in that in our branch of Judaism there was only one same-sex marriage that happened before us, about six days before,” said Devor.

Their second marriage took place after Devor had transitioned — a “fully legal wedding” conducted in 2004 by Rabbi Harry Brechner at Congregation Emanu-El synagogue.

“We haven’t told the story very much,” said Devor. “We wanted mostly to keep it quiet for our own privacy and for the first rabbi who took a risk doing that.”

Added Greenhough: “And we wanted it to be our wedding. We didn’t want it splashed over the front pages of the paper either time.”

The display case features the rhinestone headband Lynn wore for both weddings, invitations, announcements, photos and “ketubots” — traditional Jewish contracts of marriage.

“Now it’s 2017, so it’s not something people will sensationalize,” said Devor, adding with a smile: “It’s not like I have any privacy left about the fact I’m transgender.”

Another highlight, on loan from longtime cattle rancher Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon, was a saddle that belonged to Lawrence Guichon, who ran what would become the Gerard Guichon Ranch in Nicola Valley from 1919 to 1957.

Lawrence was the eldest son of Joseph Guichon, who emigrated from France to the Cariboo during the gold rush.

The Family Defined by Place display tracing the Guichon’s family’s history features a cowboy hat that belonged to Gerard Guichon, Lawrence’s second son, and a Billy kettle that came with the original Guichon brothers from France, said Calgary-based gala guest Carolyn Guichon.

She was accompanied by Lawrence’s son Bernie, 93, who noted that Lawrence rode on that saddle on his 80th birthday, a feat that he himself repeated when he turned 80.

Bernie shared his vast knowledge of horses, noting: “A lot of people don’t know it, but horses are quite smart. They’re like dogs. You’ve got to talk to them, and they listen. That’s all they need.”

Greater Victoria Public Library CEO Maureen Sawa, just back from a trip to Rome, said the library will do some cross-promotion to enhance what she described as a “brilliant” concept.

“We all express ourselves best telling stories and I think the wonderful thing about the museum identifying that this year is that it really resonates with everything we hold dear in our lives,” she said.

Another vocal fan was Rob Reid, the local businessman and Terry Fox Centre board chairman, who worked with Terry’s younger brother Darrell and the Fox family to put the travelling Terry Fox exhibit together.

“It’s really nice to have this family exhibit here because I just think back to [Terry Fox’s parents] Betty and Rolly and their family and how important they were to Terry’s legacy over the years,” Reid said.

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