The author (aged 10) looks at paintings on the fence surrounding the site of the BC Provincial Museum and Archives, 1966. (Terry Duffy photo; private collection)
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It was in the summer, 53 years ago, and my family was on vacation in Victoria. I was 10 years old. After many camping holidays in the BC Interior, closer to our Kelowna home, we were now travelling much further afield. With Dad at the wheel of our Pontiac Strato-Chief, we towed our new tent trailer over the Hope-Princeton Highway, caught the ferry to Vancouver Island, and made camp at Goldstream Provincial Park. My brother Terry, who’d received an Instamatic camera for his birthday, was documenting our family adventures on 126 slide film.
One afternoon, we visited the Royal London Wax Museum, which was still located at the south end of the Crystal Garden (now the home of the Old Spaghetti Factory). Afterwards, we strolled over to the next block of Belleville, where the new Provincial Museum and Archives complex was being built. The complex was taking shape behind plywood hoardings, which local artists had decorated with their paintings.
Paintings on the construction wall around the Provincial Museum and Archives complex on Government Street, 1966; Empress Hotel in background. (BC Archives photo NA-40542)
On Government Street, just south of Belleville, I stopped to admire a blue high-contrast painting of a rock guitarist. Terry snapped my picture. I was standing at the spot where the stairs would start down from Belleville to the gardens and the reflecting pond in front of the archives building. I wish I could say that I turned to my brother and said, “I’m going to work here some day” — but I didn’t do that. I had no idea of the role that the archives would eventually play in my life.
In 1977, as a Camosun College student, I walked down those stairs to research some course projects. In 1978 and 1979, I was a summer student for the archives’ Aural History Programme. I began picking up contract work, and for years that was how I made a living. In between, I took some time to to study history and film at SFU. In 1998 I returned to the BC Archives as an archivist on staff. (It only took me 20 years to get a real job!)
In 2016 I was working at the front of the 4th floor of the archives stacks, just above the top of those stairs. My work area was under the northwest corner of the archives roof, which you can actually see in the top right corner of Terry’s slide. 50 years had passed since he took that picture, and I was barely 15 feet from where I started.
In mid-February, 2017, I retired from the BC Archives and the Royal BC Museum. As I expected, though, I started coming back the archives again, to research projects of my own. I also volunteer occasionally, and end up back in the 4th floor stacks. After many decades behind the scenes, I can once again be a visitor to the museum – pausing just outside the fence, waiting to see what happens next.
“The author, on the occasion of his 2017 retirement from the BC Archives.” No, it’s just another fence painting outside the construction site in 1966. (Terry Duffy photo; private collection)