The Royal BC Museum anchors an area bounded by Douglas, Belleville and Government Streets, steps from Victoria’s Inner Harbour and across the street from BC’s Legislative Buildings. This cultural precinct includes Helmcken House, St. Ann’s Schoolhouse, the Netherlands Carillon, Thunderbird Park and Mungo Martin House, Wawadiťła.
When it was constructed in 1941, Thunderbird Park featured a Northwest Coast-style house with an inaccurate frontal painting produced especially for the building, as well as original carvings from many different First Nations, all put together in an inauthentic way. Chief Nakaṕankam (Mungo Martin), a Kwagu’ł artist from Tsaxis (Fort Rupert) who was considered the finest Kwakwaka’wakw carver of his day, made this new house in the park. Wilson Duff, the museum’s Anthropology Curator at the time, stressed that this house, unlike the previous one, was culturally appropriate and accurately portrayed First Nations traditions. Moreover, these were not dead traditions consigned to the past, but still active features of First Nations culture in British Columbia. “This house is more than just an authentic Kwakiutl house,” wrote Duff when the new house opened in 1953. “It is Mungo Martin’s house and bears on its house-posts hereditary crests of his family.”
The traditional hereditary rights to Wawadiťła are now the property of Martin’s grandson, Chief Oasťakalagalis ´Walas ´Namugwis (Peter Knox of Fort Rupert). On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Wawadiťła in 2003, another great feast took place in the house, hosted over two evenings by Chief Peter Knox and the Royal BC Museum. Like the opening feast, this was attended by many First Nations and non-First Nations dignitaries. A poster celebrating the occasion was created by ‘Maxwa’yalisdzi (David Knox), Martin’s great-grandson. It featured a design based on the Copper Max’inuxwdzi (Great Killer Whale) that belonged to Martin and which he presented to the Royal BC Museum in 1960.
Wawadiťła continues to be used for First Nations events with the permission of Peter and Mable Knox. It continues to be a place of meeting for urban First Nations people practicing their cultures, as well as a place where non-First Nations people can learn about these living traditions.
In the Middle Ages, bells became part of Europe’s religious soundscape. Travelling foundry workers cast huge bells on site for the great cathedrals. By the 16th century, the carillon had become a symbol of prosperity and achievement in Flemish and Dutch towns. The sounds of the bells were part of a town’s daily order.
The Netherlands Centennial Carillon was a gift from British Columbia’s Dutch community to honour Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967. It is housed at the top of the tower, which stands 27 metres (90 feet) tall.
This carillon, the largest in Canada, has 62 bells. To play, a musician has to climb the 75 steps of the spiral staircase and then a 10-step ladder to sit at the clavier. There, the carilloneur depresses the clavier’s keys and pedals to sound the bells and play a song.
The pitches of several bells commemorate specific events: D celebrates the founding of the Colony of Vancouver Island in 1849, E the founding British Columbia as a colony in 1858, and F-sharp their union in 1866; F rings for the Confederation of Canada in 1867 and G-sharp for British Columbia’s 1871 entry into the Confederation; and G remembers Canadian soldiers who gave their lives for the liberation of the Netherlands, 1940-45.
Rosemary Laing, Provincial Carilloneur, plays live concerts on Sunday afternoons during the summer months. Watch the “What’s On Calendar” for listing and bring a picnic and come and sit in the Native Plant Garden to best enjoy the beautiful music.