Vital People: Costume Museum volunteers bring Government House history to life

Vital People: Costume Museum volunteers bring Government House history to life

Tucked into Carriage House on the sprawling grounds of Government House in Victoria’s Rockland neighbourhood is the Costume Museum.

“I call it Victoria’s hidden gem because not a lot of people actually know about it,” volunteer Jake Calderwood says.

The carefully curated museum is run by a group of dedicated volunteers with the Friends of Government House Gardens Society.

“The Costume Museum is a fabulous place to work simply because it’s a gorgeous location and everything, but it’s the people you meet,” says lead volunteer Mary Anne Skill. “Visitors come in from all over the world and you hear some incredible stories.”

“More than anything I love the connection with people,” adds volunteer Donna Otto. “The volunteers, the wonderful government house staff people, all of the visitors because there are so many wonderful people who come from so many places.”

The Chatelaines’ dresses and uniforms of former Lieutenant Governors tell a visual history of the Queen’s representatives in B.C.

“I like the step back in time of being able to talk to people about history because I love to ramble, ramble about history,” Jake says enthusiastically. “History is fun, it’s not just a boring textbook! It can be fun and the I love the little stories behind each outfit that you can give to the community and the people coming through.

Jake only started volunteering here this year, but he’s already passionate about the museum, which has a special Platinum Jubilee display, celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne.

“Each year she has worn different outfits for each respective Jubilee and what the curator of this museum tried to do was kind of match the pieces we have in our collection to what she wore,” Jake explains.

There’s also a new display honouring the 100th Anniversary of the Remembrance poppy this year and a tribute to the Indigenous Veterans who served Canada in the first and Second World Wars and the Korean conflict.

“We have probably over 200 outfits so we have enough that we can change the displays every year so if you come this year and think, ‘Oh I’ve seen the Costume Museum’, come next year and I guarantee it will be different!” Mary Anne says.

There’s also a display on loan from Abkhazi Garden with dresses Princess Peggy Abkhazi wore.

Every outfit has a story and these volunteers love to share them and say they get so much out of giving back.

“I get a feeling that it makes the world a better place,” says Donna. “People who come are happy, people who volunteer are happy and it’s just good for the well-being of the community. ”

The Costume Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Friday until Sept. 2.

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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