Sunday, July 9, 2017

ROYAL BC MUSEUM EXHIBIT - Family: Bonds & Belonging

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Photos and writing by Dianna Drahanchuk

What a treat! Curator of Human History Dr Lorne Hammond showed me around the Royal BC’s Museum (RBCM) current exhibition Family: Bonds and Belonging. It’s a toss-up as to who likes to tell stories more, Lorne Hammond or SMOC’s Honorary Curator Ivan Sayers. 

The center piece of the larger exhibit consists of a circular tiered display of 40 outfits for men, women and children, each an example of people who  have made up the Canadian population.

Some of the children’s clothing includes an 1860’s wool dress and cape that might have been worn by either a boy or a girl. At this time, clothes for young boys and girls were very similar. Other examples include a Nlaka’pamux boy’s clothing collected in the Thompson River region in 1914 and a yellow duck brimmed plastic raincoat purchased in 2004 for an RBCM environmental exhibit. 

Wedding garments tell the story of how a family unit can evolve. On display are the wedding gown worn by a Victoria General Hospital nurse who married a Danish immigrant in 1951, a traditional wedding dress of an immigrant from the Ivory Coast, and suits worn by the first gay couple to be married an hour after the court ruling on human rights on July 8, 2003.

The exhibit also has every day work uniforms on display, including service uniforms of women working in restaurants and hotels to support their families ca. 1938-48, a 1969 Canadian military unification pattern uniform, and a suit a Punjabi immigrant wore to work in BC sawmills in the 1970’s. 

Some of the formal garments include a 19th-century tunic decorated with pearl buttons that belonged to a first nations man from Telegraph Creek, a Cambodian classic dance outfit belonging to an immigrant whose family had fled from the Khmer Rouge, and a cheong-sam worn by a daughter of a Chinese Canadian entrepreneur who owned one of the first automobiles in BC.

Examples of everyday clothing are also evident in the exhibit, seen in a typical house dress from the 1940’s (when women ran the family economy alone during the war), a psychedelic cotton dress sewn in 1966 by a woman pressured by her children to upgrade her wardrobe after her husband died, and young fathers’ urban wear of 2017 as well as an outfit purchased by Iranian teenage immigrants to show what a typical teenager wears today. 

To me one of the more impressive (though not obvious) things was that the mannequins for this exhibit were handmade in-house by the RBCM’s textile conservators Kjerstin and Colleen to fit each outfit. Interspersed throughout the display are posts with words, both positive and negative, relating to family. On a low dais around the centerpiece, each outfit is identified on a plaque with a photo detail and brief description. Alongside these are short descriptions of the chronological evolution of legislation in regards to family over the last 150 years, such as the right to same sex marriages in 2003.

The local community was involved in the creation of this exhibit and contributed by submitting old family photos and videos, a number that I could relate to, others showing a different perspective on what constitutes a family today. If you find yourself in Victoria, this fine exhibit is on until October 31, 2017. You can still contribute by recording audio clips, by leaving notes, through social media or tagging family photos that will be displayed inside the exhibition. See RBCM”s website

 Curator of Human History Dr Lorne Hammond and Me (Dianna Drahanchuk)

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