Skip to content

Maritime Museum of B.C. credits Prince Phillip as instrumental in its creation

On the eve of the funeral for the Duke of Edinburgh, the Maritime Museum of B.C. is paying tribute to the man who helped establish the organization in Victoria just over 66 years ago.

To honour the duke, the museum is circulating a little history this week, retelling the story of how Prince Phillip, during a tour of Victoria in 1951, inquired about a naval museum in the city. Having been told there was none, he rolled up his sleeves, or at least made a few key phone calls.

“It’s all a little fuzzy — who had the idea for it — but it’s definitely safe to say he was instrumental in bringing a maritime-related museum to our coast,” said Brittany Vis, executive director of the Maritime Museum of B.C. “We’re not sure if he sparked the idea, or if the idea was already around.”

What is known is that then-Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip toured the naval base in Esquimalt, and when the prince returned to England, he contacted the Greenwich Museum and asked it to send a collection of objects to the province in order to start a new naval museum.

The objects formed part of the first collection in the museum’s initial home on Signal Hill, outside HMC Dockyard, in 1955.

They included a bust of ­Admiral Horatio Nelson, a pocket globe, a pocket ­sundial, an 18th-century wooden telescope, a first edition of the three-volume set of Capt. George Vancouver’s Voyages to the North Pacific (1798), a trio of ships’ plans and several ­photographs.

“These items are not catalogued as the very first items, but they did come in around that time,” Vis said, noting they are not on display, but are stored along with the vast majority of the museum’s ­collection.

The museum is working on putting its collection into an online database that people can access to learn more about ­individual artifacts. The collection includes 35,000 artifacts, most of which are stored in ­climate-controlled space supplied by the province.

It includes objects reflecting First Nations history and 10,000 years of marine heritage.

The museum is leasing a small, temporary space in downtown Victoria. It moved into the 3,000-square-foot space at 634 Humboldt St. after it was forced to leave its home in Bastion Square in 2015 because the building was deemed unsafe.

It had been in Bastion Square since outgrowing its first ­location in 1965.

Vis said the museum hopes to extend its hours this summer — currently, it’s open Thursdays through Saturdays — and to reinstate its walking tours.