Are you passionate about saving our heritage? If so, read on . . . .
Many historic sites around the world that rely on visiting tourists for income, are suffering badly this year because of COVID 19. Many will not survive without more financial support—either from government, private donations or tourism.
In British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria, in Canada, there are many such heritage sites. One is Point Ellice House pictured above. It overlooks the scenic Selkirk/Gorge Waterway and today is situated in an industrial area in the city. The house and its surrounding landscaped gardens offer a serenely beautiful oasis of peace and tranquility. The house was built between 1861 and 1862 for Catherine and Charles Wallace and was designed in an Italianate Villa-style by architects John Wright and George Sanders. A few years later the Wallaces sold the house to Peter and Caroline O’Reilly and it remained in the O’Reilly family for over 100 years. Some say their ghosts still walk the halls.
In 1966 Point Ellice house was designated a National Historic Site and in 1975 became a Provincial Historic Site. Today Point Ellice House Museum and Gardens are operated by the Vancouver Island Local History Society with some financial support from the Province of British Columbia.
Another such gem in the capital city is the Emily Carr House on Government Street. The house was the home of the Carr family where famous artist and author Emily grew up. Emily was a contemporary of the Group of Seven and her paintings and books are widely known throughout the world. This house is also a provincial and national historic site and would normally be open to the public at this time of year. It, like many others, has been closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Heritage sites in Victoria such as Point Ellice House, Emily Carr House and also Craigdarroch Castle, are largely dependent upon funding for their general maintenance and operating expenses. Funding for most heritage sites is limited and therefore has to be made up by tourism and events. Visitors to these sites are the key to survival. And this summer there are none.
This situation is not restricted to the capital city alone. Around the province there are similar strains being placed upon heritage sites.
One example is the Barkerville Historic Town and Park in the Cariboo. During the summer, Barkerville usually receives approximately 65,000 visitors between May and September, plus many events and some that happen over the Christmas season. The opening this year has been delayed. Although it will partly open in June and July, much funding has already been lost.
Jan Ross, long-time caretaker of Emily Carr’s house, recently retired but is still very much involved in speaking out for provincial heritage. She dedicated 25 years of her life as caretaker of the Carr home until March of 2020 when she and her husband retired. Although a new caretaker will now be running the house, COVID-19 has again put a halt to any visitor movement.
A similar situation exists at Point Ellice where director Kelly Black was beginning to make some innovative changes to bring in more money when COVID-19 put a stop to all her plans. Although Point Ellice will open in July on a restricted basis, much has already been lost.
And so we are left with the question, how can we protect our heritage and save these sites?
One answer might be to spread the word about WHY these sites are important, not just as charming, historical houses (or castles) but because of the important people who once lived there and made a difference in the province.
For instance, at Point Ellice House, Peter O’Reilly was the Gold Commissioner for British Columbia and his wife, Caroline, was the sister of Joseph Trutch, the first Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. Their daughter, Kathleen has fascinated historians for years—a beautiful young woman who was courted by many famous men including Robert Scott of the Antarctic and Captain Stanhope, heir to an earldom, but declined all their proposals and remained a single woman until she died at Point Ellice in 1945. Many famous people visited Point Ellice House including Sir John MacDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada.
Carr House, birthplace of Emily Carr, is a gem containing a valuable collection of memorabilia of this famous artist’s life and speaks to the visitor of a bygone era in the city.
Craigdarroch Castle was built by coal baron, James Dunsmuir, a notable industrialist. He built it for his family but died before he could live there himself. The Castle normally holds many events such as weddings throughout the year.
In the interior, places like Barkerville Historic Town are a reminder of the province's gold rush days as well as providing employment for so many people today who have kept the town going. It was named for miner Billy Barker who struck gold there but lost it all before he died.
These are just a few stories of the sites that need saving today. Once COVID-19 has gone and it is safe to travel again, please make sure you support Heritage Sites around the province, across Canada and around the world. They all will need our help.