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A FREE-SPIRITED CELEBRATION OF B.C.'s 150TH BIRTHDAY


Story and Photos by Margaret Deefholts

It's a big "O" Birthday for B.C. this year. The Province is 150 years old, and the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria is pulling out all the stops in celebration of our unique culture and history with a special exhibit-Free Spirit: Stories of You, Me and B.C.

Walking into the entrance hall of the Free Spirit exhibit, I am dwarfed by an immense three dimensional diorama aptly titled The Party, where a crowd of "invitees" peer down at me. Some faces are familiar while others aren't, but they all have something in common-each one of them is a British Columbian. Well known celebrities like David Suzuki, Emily Carr and Kim Campbell rub shoulders with the Raging Grannies and Nelly Furtardo. Interactive touch screens help me identify some lesser known figures and their claim to fame.

Four hundred artefacts, some cool, a few decidedly weird and others exquisite, have been selected from the Museum's archives. Each one tells a story. Stories like those told by a performer who regales her audience with accounts of larger-than-life characters who shaped the history of this Province. They were adventurers and eccentrics, heroes and heels. Photographs lining the gallery walls also tell stories about ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives. They're people like you and me.

Nothing is more congenial than stories shared over a dining table. I eavesdrop on conversation snippets as people peer at several glass domed "memory jars" placed on a long table in the '50s style kitchen area. The scenes depict the Province's multicultural heritage, and evoke nostalgia.

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"I remember those frosty mornings," says an elegant white-haired woman as she points out a Quebec sugar shack scene to her companion. "...and the bright silvery tinkle of our pony's harness bells as we clip-clopped around our farm."

Another visitor, whose family roots go back to China, cuddles her baby son. She catches my eye and smiles as she indicates a simple Chinese place setting. "My grandmother used to tell us about her childhood in Shanghai and the beautiful porcelain bowls decorated with red dragons, set out to celebrate the Chinese New Year."

Al is a born and bred British Columbian, and spent his youth in logging camps in remote wilderness areas up the B.C. coast. "Those camp cooks sure knew how to satisfy us ravenous young loggers!" He says to me. "Thick, meaty stews and humongous pies. But that's all gone…no residential logging campsites left today."

"Now then...you wouldn't want the memory of those years to die away too, would you?" asks a nearby docent who overhears Al's comments. "Write it all down…send it to us!" she urges. "We'll put it onto The People's History website and after the exhibition is over stories like yours will be preserved in our archives for your kids and grandkids, and all future generations, to read and enjoy." Al looks impressed, and his wife nods emphatically. "Do it!" she says digging him in the ribs.

The Museum isn't the only place commemorating a special anniversary. The Grande Dame of Victoria, the Fairmont Empress Hotel is celebrating her 100th Birthday in royal style. As part of this special year, their table d'hôte menu will feature themes such as "Royal Visits", and "Dining During the Prohibition Years". My dinner tonight consists of "Classics from the Past", and the entrée is prime beef tenderloin cooked to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, seared Foie Gras, and Black Truffle drizzled in Madeira sauce. Desert is a Baked Alaska with hazelnut, Valrhona chocolate and vanilla bean, paired with InniskillinVidal Ice Wine. I leave the Empress Dining Room dizzy with repletion!

Curiosity takes me to the Bengal Lounge, with its own brand of Centennial cocktails. "Prohibition" (twelve-year-old single malt with a touch of Drambuie) was Churchill's favourite tipple which he drank it out of a teapot during the prohibition years. "Coronet" wins out as my choice, as it contains my favourite Havana Club rum with orange passion fruit liqueur over ice, and comes topped with pineapple juice and fresh lime.

Filled with a glow of well-being, I return to my room at the Empress, linger by the window to enjoy the magnificent shimmer of lights circling the harbour, then draw the curtains and luxuriate in my Victorian four-poster bed. I remember nothing more until a cheeky seagull perches on my window sill and screeches me awake at 6 a.m.

SIDEBAR:

The RBCM exhibit runs to January 11th 2009. If you can't make it to Victoria, explore Free Spirit: Stories of You, Me and B.C. on the Royal B.C. Museum's interactive website at http://www.freespiritbc.ca/ but be warned, it's highly addictive. To send in your own memoirs whether in writing or pictures or video footage, go to the People's History page at http://www.freespiritbc.ca/peopleshistory/index.aspx . After the exhibition is over these tales will be preserved in the archives for future generations to enjoy.

For more information on the Fairmont Empress special Centennial packages go to http://www.fairmont.com/empress/

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

PHOTOS by Margaret Deefholts

1. The Party 2. Kids at Interactive Screen 3. Raging Grannies at The Party 4. Ordinary people, extraordinary lives 5. Remembering When 6. Telling stories of You, Me and B.C.

 


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