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Collected objects tell 138 family stories in new Royal B.C. Museum exhibit

The Royal B.C. Museum opened the doors on its newest exhibition on Friday. Family: Bonds & Belonging looks at the meaning of family through objects collected from 138 British Columbian families.
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A family photo from Sooke in the early 20th century: Kate White (Owechemis), known as Kitty, with her husband, Aaron Denton White, and children John (Jack), Alice, Mary Catherine, Ida and Abba.

The Royal B.C. Museum opened the doors on its newest exhibition on Friday.

Family: Bonds & Belonging looks at the meaning of family through objects collected from 138 British Columbian families.

“The family is the seed of the community and community is an ecosystem that permits city, province and country to find root and flourish,” said Scott Cooper, vice-president for collections, knowledge and engagement.

The objects range from traditional family portraits to the saddle of Lawrence Guichon, who ran the Guichon ranch in the Nicola Valley near Merritt from 1918 to 1947. The saddle is on loan from Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon, whose late husband was Lawrence’s grandson.

Another exhibit is a collection of beard hair, snipped by a wife as a keepsake from her aging husband before his death in 1905, and passed down through generations.

At the centre of the exhibition is a tiered platform featuring pieces of clothing that tell stories of different eras — from indigenous families who have lived in B.C. for centuries to newcomers who just arrived. One psychedelic 1960s mini-dress was hand-sewn by a woman who learned from her mother and passed the skill on to her own daughter.

While there are some representations of nuclear family, the exhibit seeks to define family broadly.

“Our goal was to be inclusive. We wanted everybody to be able to connect in some way,” said Kathryn Bridge, curator of history and art.

“We knew we couldn’t tell everyone’s stories, but we wanted to tell stories or present scenarios that were general enough that everyone would be able to find themselves.”

It also acknowledges that not all family associations are positive — by displaying words such as abuse and fear, alongside words such as trust and love.

“We did not want to skirt around the reality that memories aren’t always positive for people in families. The visitors will each come to the exhibition with their baggage and their own lenses with which to view the objects,” she said.

The exhibition runs through Oct. 31.

The museum has produced a companion book: The Language of Family.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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