A new exhibit at the Point Ellice House Museum pulls back the silk curtain on early Victoria’s upper class.
“The Politics of Luxury” is the museum’s first feature exhibit under new management, and includes artifacts, images and stories to give visitors a glimpse of the people, power and privilege of Victoria’s past.
While visitors might marvel at the extravagance of the O’Reilly family’s lifestyle, the exhibit goes beyond high-end China-wear and jewels. It also looks at the colonial past of the wealthy and influential, and at how decisions made within the walls of the B.C.’s richest homes impacted British Columbians, particularly First Nations – and continues to reverberate today.
“This isn’t your grandma’s historic house tour,” said Kelly Black, executive director. “What we’ve tried to do is change the narrative of a historic house museum and tell the good stories and the not so good stories. We hope people will be unsettled by that, but in a good way that will provoke change and conversation.”
Point Ellice House was built in 1862, and was occupied by the O’Reilly Family for 108 years.
Original occupant Peter O’Reilly originated from England before coming over to the Colony of British Columbia to serve as a gold commissioner, a judge and sheriff for the colony. Soon After, O’Reilly also served as an Indian Reserve Commissioner, a role he held for 18 years.
“He did that work here in this house; the corresponding with the prime minister and with Joseph Trutch about ‘are the reserves too big,’ and ‘are they adequate,’” Black said. “That kind of everyday work of colonization happened at this house, so we feel it’s important to highlight that so we can learn from that work and hopefully move forward in a good way.”
The house is filled with interpretive texts and hundreds of artifacts to help paint the picture for visitors, who can also explore the museum’s gardens.
“People will be able to come here and enjoy the grounds and the house for what it is, but also to be able to leave thinking critically about the future of British Columbia, as well as the past.”
–With files from Nina Grossman