Friday, May 20, 2011

Wheeling into the past...

In honour of Bike to Work Week 2011, here are a few treasures from the BC Archives visual library. All of the originals can be found using the call numbers listed in the captions and the BC Archives search engine. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Victoria's Day

From the desk of Ann ten Cate, Reference Archivist at the Royal B.C. Museum

The Monday on or just before May 24th is a federal statutory holiday in most of Canada – and a date that usually marks the unofficial beginning of summer for many of us. It’s a time to plant a garden, open up the cottage – or celebrate the Queen’s birthday with a parade, fireworks, regatta, or rodeo. How you celebrate all depends on which part of the country you are in.

The day is called Victoria Day because it was originally designated in 1845 to mark the birthday of the reigning Queen – Victoria. After her death in 1901, it was officially re-designated as Empire Day throughout the Commonwealth - but the name Victoria Day is still used in most parts of Canada.

The Royal BC Museum is located in the City of Victoria, also named after the former monarch, and, not surprisingly, Victorians have always celebrated the Queen’s birthday with gusto. One of the biggest parades in the country occurs here on the Monday of the long weekend, with marching bands from all over the region.

The B.C. Archives holds dozens of photographs of British Columbians marking the day – here’s a sampling to get you in the mood for your own May long weekend.

Canoe regatta, Victoria's Inner Harbour, May 14, 1904 A-07202

Cyclists in the May 24, 1900 parade, Victoria, B.C. H-02434

Victoria Day Maypole Dance, Lumby, B.C. [194?] F-09236

May Day Parade on Government Street, Victoria, B.C., 1900 G-02019

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

One Year Later

From the desk of Kim Gough, Program Developer at the Royal BC Museum

As I was sitting down to write my blog for this month I realized that I have now been blogging for one year! So I treated myself to some cake and gifts and then, drunk on sugar, I decided to revisit my first post on "Backstage Pass Tours" and give an update.

Here is a quick summary of a typcial Backstage Pass tour. Visitors purchase their museum admission ticket or show their current membership card and then sign up for the tour at the Information Desk. There they receive a backstage pass ticket. They then gather in the lobby and are greeted by their tour leader and assistant. After a brief introduction to the museum they head to the freight elevator and take a trip down to the basement.

Frieght elevator

They learn about the field work of the entomology (insect) department and then stop for a look in the Exhibit Art workshop where they see how things are made.

After that they trek through the tunnel and head up the staff elevator to the sixth floor of the collections tower. They go through the entomology library, past the curator's office and into the laboratory where they see stacks of collection drawers, pinned specimens and maybe even some research associates at work. A quick look out the windows at the amazing view of Victoria's inner harbour and then back downstairs.

A glimpse behind the scenes of Entomology

Our docent tour guides do an amazing job. After training sessions and tours with curators and many practice runs they expertly guide our visitors through the many hallways and collections. On weekdays, visitors are often treated to impromptu visits with curators, research associates, conservators and other staff. Some visitors are downright "star struck" and these interactions are definitely a highlight.

A tour visiting the Exhibit Arts workshop and chatting with staff

We have been running the tours for seven months and took a two month break so the departments could have their spaces back for a little while. We also took advantage of this time to evaluate the program and make some changes - including a new tour of the Exhibit Art workshop and of paleontology.

Backstage Pass Tours will continue to be offered with regular admission twice a week until the end of September as part of our Behind the Scenes exhibition - and hopefully beyond. Find out when they happen by visiting our "What's On" page.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Identification please...

From the desk of Kelly Sendall, Manager of Natural History at the Royal BC Museum

The Natural History Section at the museum conducts about 30 research projects each year. Some of them take many years and others only span one year. But almost all result in an improvement in the representation the collections have of the province's biodiversity. As BC is Canada's most biodiverse province by a long shot, it's also a challenge to properly identify what we've already got! With the help of taxonomic experts from all over the world we are constantly doing this. Either they come to visit the collection or we loan specimens to experts at other museums. Recently, we have initiated a new project to develop online identification keys for the plants and animals of BC. These are slowly growing in number as students, volunteers, staff, research associates and others develop and contribute one or more keys to the list. So far there are keys to:

Chitons of BC
These are marine molluscs clinging to rocks in the intertidal and sub tidal habitats. The one pictured here is Tonicella insignis also known as the White-lined Chiton.

This key is still in development but will cover the glass sponges found commonly in BC waters. The one pictured on the right is a species of Staurocalyptus, of which there are 3 species in the marine waters of BC.

This is a general key to the groups of echinoderms (seastars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, brittlestars/basketstars, sea lilies/feather stars) in BC waters.

This key is still in development but covers very strange echinoderms also referred to as sea lillies or featherstars. The one pictured on the right is a common featherstar in BC (Florometra).

BC Echinoids
This key includes the sea urchins and sand dollars. The species pictured on the right is the Purple Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus).

Also known as sea squirts, the tunicates are very diverse in BC marine waters and often rather difficult to identify. The species to the right is our 'sea peach' (Halocynthis aurantium).

These are ancient marine animals resembling molluscs but they are only distantly related to them. Some members of this group are commonly called lamp shells. The picture on the right is of the California Lamp Shell (Laqueus californianus), one of a few species common to BC.

We're looking for help in adding more keys to the list. Contributors so far have been students, staff, researchers or amateurs with an expertise in a particular group. If you think you can help, please contact me so we can talk about it. These keys are definitely a step up from the paper field guides in your pack that quickly become outdated or soaking wet! If you would like to try one of the keys, click on any of the key headings above.