Excavating the Royal Jubilee Hospital University of Victoria Students Revive a Historic Collection By Dr. Genevieve Hill, Anthropology Collections Manager and Researcher
f you have ever been to Old Town at the Royal BC Museum, then you know how exciting it can be to look in a window and see the past staring back at you. Archaeological material, fresh out of the ground, presents a much muddier picture—usually literally—and it takes a lot of elbow grease and creative thinking to make the material tell a story. Once in a while, though, a collection is recovered that speaks for itself. The artifacts recovered from a salvage excavation at the Royal Jubilee Hospital (RJH) are one such collection. At once familiar and foreign, these objects speak to us from the past, but the issues they raise are as relevant now as they were 127 years ago.
On April 8, 2017, the Royal BC Museum’s archaeology staff and students from Dr. Katherine Cook’s Historical and Contemporary Archaeology class at the University of Victoria hosted a pop-up exhibition of artifacts from the Royal Jubilee Hospital. The well-attended event allowed members of the public to get up close and personal with objects that represent an important part of Victoria’s history. Visitors were able to interrogate the collection in a way that is rare in museum exhibitions, with students and staff on hand to answer questions and explore ideas.
Residents of Victoria will likely be familiar with the Royal Jubilee Hospital, which stands at the corner of Richmond and Bay Streets. Opened in 1890, the hospital was constructed to meet the needs of a growing and diverse population. While the buildings were designed with the latest medical science in mind, the hospital was also bound by social norms of Victorian society. Class and gender conventions were perpetuated at the hospital, which had separate wards for men and women and a number of private wards for paying customers. These societal concerns, and many others, are reflected in the material that was recovered from the excavation. The Royal Jubilee Hospital has been trying to keep pace with the demands of an ever-growing community since it opened, and there have been many additions to