Happy Birthday British Columbia! BC was officially born 154 years ago on November 19th, 1858.
Looking back we can see that early in British Columbia’s history there was an effort to preserve our past records, unfortunately modern-day politicos of BC had other priorities.
1886 - BC Pioneers raise concerns about heritage
The Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM) had its beginnings in a petition submitted to the provincial government by a group of influential citizens in Victoria in January 1886. That petition articulated the need for raising public consciousness about stewardship and educational matters concerning the province’s heritage.
“It has long been felt desirable that a Provincial museum should be established in order to preserve specimens of the natural products and Native Antiquities and Manufacture of the Province and to classify and exhibit the same for the information of the public” (Begbie et al 1886).
Their efforts eventually culminated in the establishment of the Provincial Museum of Natural History later named the “British Columbia Provincial Museum,” and presently, the “Royal British Columbia Museum.”
1960 - Archaeological and Historic Sites Protection Act
The first significant legislative protection for archaeological sites in British Columbia was the passage by the provincial government of the Archaeological and Historic Sites Protection Act (AHSPA) in 1960.
The 1960 legislation expanded the range of automatically protected site types from the earlier focus on rock art to include all burial places, as well as:
”any kitchen-midden, shell-heap, house-pit, cave, or other structure, or other archaeological remains on crown lands, whether designated as an archaeological site or not.”
AHSPA also mandated creation of the first provincial body specifically devoted to advising the government on matters concerning archaeology — the Archaeological Sites Advisory Board (ASAB).
1977 – Decline begins in heritage protection
The Heritage Conservation Act of 1977, effectively diminished the range of site types that were automatically protected by legislation. Rock-art and burial sites were to have “historic or archaeological significance” (undefined in the Act) in order to be automatically protected. Additionally, the catch-all category of other archaeological sites or objects, as well as “mounds,” were no longer included in the legislation.
2002-2003 – Privatization of BC Heritage
Royal BC Museum (RBCM) was made into a Crown Corporation in November 2002. The crown corporation was set up to include the former provincial museum, provincial archives, Helmcken House and the Netherlands Carillon (the bells donated by the Dutch citizens of Victoria).
The Heritage Resource Centre was once a loaning library which held approximately 15,000 titles when it closed at the end of March 2003. Most of the titles were transferred to the RBCM Corporation.
Access to the heritage resource materials is on-site only and photocopies can be made for a fee. First Nations in remote locations who��require access to information need to hire a Victoria based researcher which could end up being quite costly.
Private profiting from our public heritage
Comparatively, copyright fees at the RBCM Corporation is more expensive than other USA museums. For example, to use an image for a book cover, the Smithsonian Museum Archives charges $100, whereas the RBCM Corporation charges $250.
BC stories and history destroyed for profit
Another concern is that the Royal British Columbia Museum functioning as a corporation could end up sharing or selling archaeological site location data, traditional land use information, and artifact collections. How will access to this potentially sensitive cultural information be controlled? Why would the BC government want to divest itself from recording and documenting its own history?