Royal B.C. Museum hosts spooky Halloween event tonight
For a Halloween event with the grown-ups in mind, the Royal B.C. Museum serves up a spirited evening of activities related to living – and dying – more than a century ago.
Returning Friday for its second year, Night Shift: Living and Dying in Victorian Times takes visitors back more than 100 years with eerie entertainment, plus drinks, live music and fun activities.
Inspired by archival records and the human history collection, the evening will awaken the spirits of the past as 19th century mourners, mystics, fortune-tellers and others stroll the streets of Old Town, says Kim Gough, adult learning team lead at the Royal B.C. Museum.
“We wanted the activities to be related to the exhibits, so in Old Town we’re looking at Victorian-era themes,” Gough says. As a free-flowing evening without scheduled activities, “you choose your own adventure.”
A review of sources like the Daily Colonist didn’t reveal a lot about Halloween celebrations in Victorian Victoria, but the season was widely regarded as a time when spirits were believed to be near, by people who were deeply interested in things like mourning rituals and the afterlife.
“It was a time of year people thought spirits were pretty close to the Earth,” Gough says, noting adults living at the time would likely have lost their parents, siblings, friends and often even children, meaning they had a special interest in what happened to souls once they passed on, Gough explains.
“So Victorians did have a lot of really interesting curiosity about the afterlife.”
Museum guests can learn how to make a memento mori brooch from hair and interact with two women who will be dressed in full and half-mourning attire and will answer questions about the rituals of mourning.
But the physical implications of death weren’t the only things captivating people’s minds at the time. “Because of Victorians’ interest in the afterlife, they were also very interested in séances,” Gough notes.
However, that same interest also sparked many charlatans who took advantage of people’s beliefs through a variety of ruses and tricks. “Our séance people may fall into more of that side of the paradigm,” she hints.
After summoning spirits at a Victorian séance, guests can let the lovelorn fortune teller help them find true love through traditional Halloween games and activities or pay tribute to the departed at a wake with a procession led by the eclectic musical ensemble Bu’an Bu’an, playing throughout the evening.
In the Modern History Gallery guests will hear stories of murder, tragedy and woe found in archival B.C. Coroners’ reports.
“It just gets creepier and creepier,” Gough promises, recalling the 1864 murder of “hurdy-gurdy girl” Everina Rice – the first female murdered in the Gold Rush town of Barkerville. Smothered in her own bed, no killer was ever found, Gough says.
Then there was the sad tale of Sophie Cameron, one of the few women who joined her husband during the Cariboo gold rush, only to die of typhoid.
Before dying, Sophie implored her husband to bury her back in Ontario, a promise that brought challenges such as transportation (including a toboggan), a tin coffin filled with alcohol for preservation, and several disinterments, including one very public occasion in front a large crowd to confirm death from natural causes. “According to reports, she was in a wonderful state of preservation,” Gough says.
And for something completely different, the Majestic Theatre will screen the 1920s German vampire movie Nosferatu, with live musical accompaniment by jazz musician Patrick Boyle.
Night Shift: Living and Dying in Victorian Times welcomes ghouls and guests age 19+ (photo ID required) from 8 to 11 p.m. on the third floor of the Royal B.C. Museum only (Admission to Vikings is not included). Tickets are $30, with a 10-per-cent-discount for members, available in advance at royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/events/night-shift-living-and-dying-again-in-victorian-times/ or call 250-356-7226. Drinks will be available for purchase.