Heather Gross: Royal BC Museum


For many years, I volunteered at the Royal BC Museum in the Learning Department and with Special Events. Sometimes that work was very logistical–moving tables, setting up supplies, directing people to where the action was happening. Sometimes that work was very relational.

Memorably, I was part of staging a fortune telling station around Halloween and doing visual recording of queer history during a Pride event.

After a break due to the pandemic, I re-engaged my volunteer roles and I was reminded what I enjoy about encounters with visitors from different backgrounds and experiences.

This month, I was in Helmcken House, one of the oldest settlers’ homes in BC still in its original location, that was decorated for winter festivities. It was delightful to remind visitors that the museum team used photographs from the house itself in 1905 so the decorations and food were “pretty close” to what the family would have enjoyed in that time.

Many people came to the house as part of a visit from outside of the region, and we spoke about local history. Others were well versed on both Fort Victoria and early city history and had many very specific questions about house building supplies or neighbourhood design.

A conversation I enjoyed the most was one where the visitor left saying, “Well you really left me with a lot of questions.” Perhaps people expect volunteers at a museum to have all the answers—but it is wonderful to know that the visitors leave with memories, ideas and reflections that will keep them curious and learning long after their visit to the museum has ended.

I embrace the idea that informal relationships are part of what makes life interesting, and that deep learning happens when we leave a place with more questions than answers.

Learn more at royalbcmuseum.bc.ca.