The Royal BC Museum anthropology collections manager described what Wharf Street near the Johnson Street Bridge in downtown Victoria looked like in the late 1800s.
“Almost every building had a bar, or a hotel, in every block” says Genevieve Hill. “The area along Store and Wharf Street has historically been one of the first areas that people coming to the city, or leaving the city, would have stopped at.”
In 2012, to accommodate a service line upgrade, this area was excavated and historic material discovered.
“The city did a great job in making sure this sort of material was recovered,” says Hill. “Not often do we get a nice, accurate snapshot into the past in this way.”
It’s a rare collection because most of what was found, while historic, is considered trash and is thrown out.
“There was a lot of traditional black and green bottle glass, ceramics, and things of that nature, which are often found,” says Hill. “All this material speaks to trade with other countries. China, Australia, UK, America – and it shows the sort of thing that people were using in their daily life.”
Anthropology students at the University of Victoria (UVic) worked with the museum researching the collection.
Katherine Cook, from UVic’s anthropology department, said most of the students “don’t get that many opportunities to do hands-on work that’s local to their own communities.”
The students then created an exhibit for the public.
“A lot of the people that were coming to the exhibit have grown up here, and have their own histories that they ended up feeding back to the students,” says Cook.
“This was a really, really busy neighbourhood, so we’re getting a broad spectrum of the people that sort of helped build BC, and build early Victoria,” Hill said. “I believe the excavations went down to about five meters, and a lot of the material would have been discarded.”
Now those pieces of the past are safely stored at the Royal BC Museum.