The sounds of the train arriving at the Port Moody station echo around Old Town, deep within the Royal BC Museum’s third floor. For a moment, as the click-clack and choo-choo fade into the distance, there is silence in the street from history, a stillness that reminds one of a day before traffic, cellphones, or even electric lights.
Then, with the recorded clank of a blacksmith’s hammer hidden behind a wall panel, the silence is broken and three families amble out of the station into the street. As one family heads into the Grand Hotel, the father looks up and sees the sign for “Hives and Evans, Furniture and Household Requisites, est. 1862”.
Hives and Evans, those famous local merchants from famous Barkerville, had their brick storefront carefully reproduced by the museum in the 1970s. Or did they?
Contrary to belief, none of the storefront names found in Old Town are found in the photographs or the written documents containing BC’s history. None of the names are even from the 1800s. Where did they come from?
Although some of Old Town was built to accurately depict the look of small time shops and merchants in BC such as the Majestic Theatre (loosely based off the old Nanaimo Theatre) and Columbia Printers (Victoria), there may be more than meets the eye in the scaled down, Royal BC Museum’s Old Town.
If you have been around the museum long enough to remember the opening of the Modern History gallery on July 7, 1972, and have kept a keen eye on the storefronts, you might have noticed some small but lasting changes – Old Town has had an ongoing addition of business names and store owners’ names to the windows and awnings.
The names come from a great deal of multi-talented, hardworking museum professionals who contributed to the building of many of the current galleries in the Royal BC Museum. As the 43 year anniversary of the Natural History gallery passes us, not only does it still teach and wow visitors worldwide, but many of the past workers live on through the museum’s own Old Town. It took an entire team to create exhibitions as great as these. That team included carpenters, designers, electronic technicians, CEOs, model makers, artists, exhibit technicians, finance managers, curators, and many more not listed.
Next time you take a stroll through Old Town, pause and take a look at store owner Ed Mullet, or Bristol Foster, and think … I wonder what their role was at the Royal BC Museum while they worked here creating these exhibitions?