Hauntings, local heritage and historical artifacts — the Maritime Museum of B.C. offers an intimate showcase for an educational experience.
“The Royal B.C. Museum has this ‘wow’ factor,” said Anissa Paulsen, director of exhibits at the Maritime Museum in Bastion Square “You walk in and you can’t help but be totally blown away by totems in the lobby.
“But we are just sweet and charming; a little bit quirky, even,” Paulsen said. “I always like to think the Maritime Museum is the best hidden little gem in the city.”
It shines from the outside of the building — a nationally listed historic site that opened in 1889 as B.C.’s first permanent courthouse — to the inside, where a reconstructed Vice-Admiralty Court now sits and served as a venue for the just-completed Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival.
In one space, where it’s believed condemned men were hung, a ghost is said to lurk. Strange moving shadows have been reported on walls, and mist is said to have appeared on the glass of cabinets containing artifacts.
Even the old-fashioned elevator has a story and a mystery. Installed in 1899 by noted Victoria architect Francis Rattenbury, it was removed from a building under demolition that nobody can positively identify.
It is, however, recognized as the oldest operating birdcage elevator in North America. On top of that, the National Geographic Society has listed the Maritime Museum’s elevator as the second-best elevator ride in the world, behind only the CN Tower in Toronto.
“Step inside the elaborate, gilded car with its lacy grillwork and relive some spectral moments in style,” National Geographic says on its website describing the Maritime Museum’s elevator ride and its attendant ghosts.
The museum’s collection contains some 35,000 artifacts, not all of which are on display at once.
Artifacts and displays include those illustrating early European venturers — Spanish, English and Russian — to the coast of B.C. Native seafarers are also included, but the Maritime Museum doesn’t try to compete with the Royal B.C. Museum’s collection.
Canadian Pacific, which once had a sizable fleet of ships plying Atlantic and Pacific Canada is featured, as are B.C. Ferries, the Canadian Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy, although its gallery is being renovated.
One room, however, is always a big attraction, at least among male visitors. It illustrates the workings of a ship’s engine room.
“Lots of men find this room really interesting and lots of women find they really don’t care,” Paulsen said.
The museum is committed to keeping the artifacts revolving, she said, so visitors won’t find artifacts such as the same model ships on display year after year.
Also, she said the collection of model ships is now being inventoried. What it means for visitors, for example, is that a prized artifact, such as a 19th-century naval warship constructed of carved bone by Napoleon prisoners of war, can be fully explained to visitors.
“We want our focus to be telling the stories behind the objects and to make a personal connection with the visitor,” Paulsen said.
“The approach from this time forward is to really start engaging with the community,” she said.
“I don’t see myself as an expert and I certainly don’t have all the stories to tell, but I know there are stories out there that need to be told. So we want people in the community to come and help us tell their stories.”
For information about the Maritime Museum of B.C., its hours and programs, go to mmbc.bc.ca.