Angela Williams

Royal B.C. Museum celebrates 130 years

The first time Angela Williams visited the Royal B.C. Museum she was escorted out by security guards.

The first time Angela Williams visited the Royal B.C. Museum she was escorted out by security guards.

Originally immigrating from Germany, first to Edmonton and then to Victoria, Williams visited the museum on a class field trip and was instantly fascinated by the entrance of the third floor which contained an interactive cosmos show, where kids could play.

Then she travelled through the histories gallery, which contained a fishing diorama with dead salmon on a slab. The blood from the fish looked so real that Williams felt compelled to reach out and touch it.

“I was a 12-year-old kid and it looked so real. They’re sources of wonder for people who’ve only seen them the first time and that was me as a kid. You fall in love with the place through the experiences that it gave you,” she said.

As she did, Williams set off the alarms and was escorted out of the museum by security.

Since that field trip, things have come full circle for Williams, who has worked at the museum for the last 13 years and is now the chief operating office and deputy CEO.

This year, the museum is celebrating its 130th anniversary.

The Royal B.C. Museum was originally created in 1886 when citizens were concerned about the rate of which First Nations artifacts were being taken away from the province. Hundreds of people signed a petition, which was sent to the government at the time, detailing the need for a museum and shortly after, it was created.

Since then, the museum has become the provincial repository for the province’s human and natural history, housing more than seven million objects — less than one tenth of which is on display — including Metis objects, a piece of the wall from a former detention centre in Victoria in the 1800s and genealogical records.

“We’re not your grandma’s museum anymore. We’re not dusty and old and mouldy. We’re interesting, we’re vibrant, we’re alive. We have programs for just about everything,” Williams said, adding there are roughly 120 staff and 600 volunteers.

“There’s so much to learn. I’ve worked here 13 years and I always see something new.”

Over the years, the museum has changed its programming to become more relevant and interactive for younger generations. It has put thousands of documents material online through its learning portal and hosts field trips for thousands of school-age to university students.

It has become an internationally known institution, bringing baby Lyuba, a rare woolly mammoth from Russia earlier this year, as well as collections from Bogota, Columbia to Victoria last year.

The museum’s reputation as a tourism destination is growing as well. Last year, the museum was named the best museum in Canada by TripAdvisor for the second consecutive year.

In celebration of its anniversary, the museum put five Emily Carr paintings on display for the public to see. In the future, Williams hopes to establish an Emily Carr exhibit to show off the more than 1,100 artifacts they have related to the Canadian icon.

“We think the next 130 years are going to be quite bright as the museum starts to grow and be more relevant because we’re not just Victoria’s museum, we’re the museum for the province,” Williams said. “The museum has already been here for 130 years and it’ll be here for 130 more.”

The museum’s current exhibit Mammoths: Giants of the Ice Age is on until Dec. 31. For more information about the museum visit royalbcmuseum.bc.ca.