BCHF News History of our Historians: Point Ellice House

History of our Historians: Point Ellice House

— Anupriya Dasgupta, Student, University of British Columbia

Point Ellice House, “a little green slice of paradise” situated in an industrial neighbourhood of Victoria, conserves a robust history through its historically influential O’Reilly family. Pictured are Christeah Dupont, Curatorial Assistant and Jeannine Worthing, Visitor Services Coordinator, who share their experience working at the house and what it means to them.

During a period of lull as the site remains closed due to COVID-19, Christeah’s background as an Anthropology student and Jeannine’s passion for WWI history collide as they dig through the archives at Point Ellice House, finding calling cards and old letters that enrich and offer depth to the known lives of the O’Reilly family.

They spoke to me of the importance of preserving and supporting historical sites like Point Ellice House and discussed the role of learning history in order to orient oneself in the present. PEH not only tells the history of the O’Reilly family, but as home to an influential colonial settler family in the 19th century, it holds a prominent role in shaping Victoria’s history. 

Christeah and Jeannine both share their commitment towards tearing down the gatekeeping put in place by museums that have been historically colonial institutions, leaving out integral voices in telling a shared history. “Everyone deserves a seat at the table,” says Christeah, and this begins with the team’s efforts in creating an accessible online space for sharing PEH’s history through videos and blog posts and sharing educational resources for whoever is interested. The team is also developing educational programming for the BC social studies curriculum, focusing on online delivery and free-of-cost field trips so every school that wants to participate is not held back by an inability to afford knowledge.

“If there is anyone who is curious at all about the history of Victoria and BC as a colony, we’re really a diamond in the rough that we’re working on polishing, and we need all the support we can get,” says Jeannine. While community members are encouraged to donate during this time of crisis, any kind of engagement is welcomed and appreciated including volunteering as well as simply engaging with the historical material online.

Item C-03922. BC Archives. “Charlotte Kathleen O’Reilly at Point Ellice house; rear view, O’Reilly family residence; after 1884.

The historical image is of Kathleen O’Reilly on the lawn at Point Ellice House in Victoria. Kathleen O’Reilly lived her entire life at Point Ellice House – she was born there in 1867 and died there in 1945. The image captures the house during its heyday, when the O’Reilly family would host tennis and croquet parties on the lawn (note the netting behind Kathleen in this image). Built in 1861-2, Point Ellice House is one of Victoria’s oldest homes – it is both a National and Provincial Historic Site. Today, the site offers self-guided tours, special events, and changing exhibits that connect the house and its occupants to the rich history of Victoria and British Columbia.

History of our Historians” in an initiative by four UBC sociology students who worked to find ways to put BCHF member societies in the spotlight during difficult times of COVID-19 pandemic as part of our #BuyLocal campaign. We thank and appreciate the support and work of Anupriya, Alec, Refano and Makenna.