This portrait of Queen Victoria

HISTORY COLUMN: A brief history of the Metchosin Museum Society

Community heritage group marking history for more than 40 years

In 1971, the 100th anniversary of Metchosin School was around the corner.

The PTA was intent on celebrating this occasion with a meaningful and lasting contribution to the area, and so galvanized the citizens of Metchosin to form a School Museum. Volunteers accomplished much in that first year: applying to the Provincial Government for ‘point of interest status,’ calling for artifacts like slates and books, moving the entire school to new foundations. Even the former outhouse was moved from its place as a bus shelter at Taylor and William Head Road and restored behind the school as a garden shed. Only the portrait of Queen Victoria – which hung in the original school – was proving to be beyond the ability of the committee to bring back to its rightful home.

As the grand opening of the museum approached, invitations were sent out around the world to past pupils. Artifacts and donations rolled in, including an organ from Father O’Brien of St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church which claimed to have “1887 mouse-proof pedals.” Committees were formed to learn how to catalogue donations, apply for society status and gather stories and history from the school and the district as a whole. It seems every volunteer group in the “western communities” was included in the planning of the great day.

On March 25, the Lieutenant Governor of B.C. officially unveiled the “stop of interest” sign and declared the School Museum open.

That was the first day of the Museum Society, now the long haul work began.

The first official meeting took place in the school house on April 26, 1972.  Among the housekeeping decisions, a concerted effort was now made to repatriate the Queen Victoria portrait to her rightful place in Metchosin. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 was marked around the British world by many different celebrations, and in Metchosin, a Mr. W. H. Hayward initiated an Esquimalt District school essay competition, with the winning school receiving the honour of hanging the royal portrait for the year.

The competition carried on for a few years, and the last student to win was Miss Annie Duke, later Mrs. Trotter, of Metchosin. Over the years the six-foot-tall portrait was shuffled about. Students must have used it as a dart board at some point, as when it surfaced it was punctured with many holes and tears.

The Sooke School Board was approached by a Mrs. Morgan to restore the painting. On completion it was decided that there was no suitable place to hang the portrait, and so the Queen made a series of moves from the Provincial Archives to the Dingle House restaurant, and then to Craigdarroch Castle. The Castle Society acquired the portrait and gave it a proud place to hang. They were loath to part with it, and it took over a year of negotiating to finally have them agree to allow the portrait to go “home” to the last school that had won the contest. With much fanfare the portrait was re-hung on Thursday Dec. 13, 1973.

Our Museum is propelled by the enthusiasm and dedication of volunteers, some of whom worked in those heady first months.  We welcome new friends with the history “bug” who wish to help or simply wish to spend some time reflecting on the past through our many artifacts.

Please contact me at wendyncmitchell@shaw.ca to share your stories or questions about the Society.

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