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Historic Point Ellice House closing in Victoria

Point Ellice House is located at 2616 Pleasant St. in Victoria. (Point Ellice House/Facebook) Point Ellice House is located at 2616 Pleasant St. in Victoria. (Point Ellice House/Facebook)
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A well-known historic site and museum in Victoria is closing its doors due to what it calls a lack of funding.

On Wednesday morning, Point Ellice House Museum and Gardens announced on social media that it was closing down effective immediately.

"Although we were able to successfully weather three years of the pandemic and address a significant amount of deferred maintenance at the site, we have been unable to secure sustainable funding for our operations from the Province of B.C.," reads the statement.

Kelly Black, executive director of Point Ellice House, says the closure came amid calls to the province for further funding.

"In 2021, all provincially owned heritage sites wrote to the province asking for sustainable funding," said Black.

"In the letter we said closure was one of the outcomes if sustainable funding wasn't achieved," he said. "Unfortunately, that day has come for Point Ellice House."

Black says he's not sure what will happen to the property once keys are handed back over to the province.

"We are incredibly proud of the work our staff and volunteers have done to rehabilitate and reinvigorate this special historic site, work that we had hoped could continue," said the museum in its statement Wednesday.

MINISTRY RESPONSE

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the B.C. government said it wasn't aware that the Vancouver Island Local History Society, which has operated Point Ellice House on behalf of the province since 2019, was deciding to end operations.

"We have been in discussions with the current property operator regarding their request to increase the site’s annual operating funding significantly above its current level, and are disappointed that they appear to have made a decision to relinquish their role," said the B.C. Tourism Ministry.

The province says the historical society had been contracted to operate Point Ellice House until 2024. If the society decides to end that contract early, the province says it will seek a new operator, which would take an estimated two to three months to complete.

During that time, the province said it would look at ways to keep Point Ellice House open while a new operator is sought.

"While some site operators are seeking greater and longer-term financial operating commitments, these requests must be considered in light of other heritage sites that British Columbians would like the province to also fund and protect," said the ministry.

The province says that since 2019, it has provided Point Ellice House with $425,000 for site operations and nearly $338,000 for site maintenance.

Point Ellice House also received $226,000 in a one-time grant through the BC 150 Time Immemorial program, which ran in 2021.

SITE HISTORY

Point Ellice House was sold to the province in 1975, and offered a window into what life was like in B.C.'s capital more than a century ago.

The property contained more than 12,000 artifacts owned by the O'Reilly family, who had originally lived in the home for decades starting in the late 1800s, according to the Port Ellice House website.

The items spanned from 1890 to 1920, and included household items like clothing, board games, kitchen utensils, writing desks and more.

An interior photo of Point Ellice House Museum and Gardens is pictured. (CTV News)Black says some his favourite memories from Point Ellice House include restoration efforts of the south garden, or "kitchen garden," located on the property.

"It was previously mostly lawn and we restored it to a vegetable and cut flower garden, which is what it was historically used for," he said.

"In 2022, we grew over 600 pounds of food, which was donated to the Rock Bay Community Fridge and the Victoria Cool Aid Society."

Black says he's also proud of the museum's efforts towards reconciliation and "truth telling."

"When we took over the site in 2019, one of the first things we did was make the legacy and harmful impacts of the Indian Reserve Commission front and centre for the visitors," he said.

"The patriarch of the O'Reilly family, Peter O'Reilly, was the head of that commission for 18 years and his work had devastating impacts for First Nations in the province."

Black says that by highlighting this aspect of history, important conversations have been sparked about something that was not previously talked about at the museum.

The O'Reilly family also lived at Point Ellice House when the Point Ellice Bridge collapsed in 1896, killing 55 people.

Members of the family were some of the first on scene to help try to rescue survivors, according to diary entries from O'Reilly family members. 

Black says he hopes that community members who have an interest in history will speak up about keeping historical sites alive.

"These places need support, not only from their communities but also from their elected officials," he said.

"They're special contributors in so many ways and the investment is a small one, but the return is invaluable," said Black. "We need people to let that be known before we lose another museum or heritage site."

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