A sign in Old Town at the Royal B.C. Museum formed a ghost of an idea in Kim Gough’s mind.
“Mourning orders given prompt attention,” it reads.
Black dresses, veils, handkerchiefs and widow’s-wear laid out for the Halloween season inspired a social event with a hint of education: Night Shift: Living and Dying in Victorian Times.
“This is the first time I’ve tried to slip some learning in there,” said Gough. “I wanted to find an event where people may have had no conscious intent for learning.”
She knows adults want an excuse to be part of the education program, having seen parents and caregivers look wistfully on during children and family programs. She calls Night Shift: Living and Dying in Victorian Times a “Wonder Sunday for grownups.”
Wonder Sunday is an interactive, learning-based event geared toward kids and families that happens on the last Sunday of each month.
In the adults-only version, D.J. Primitive and Bucan Bucan provide the live soundtrack as costumed players offer insight into characters and customs from the past.
The Halloween-themed event introduces experts extolling true tales of life and death from a Victorian point of view.
Actors will fill the space on the third floor of the provincial museum with characters. A pair of Pioneer Players will portray mourning widows while others offer gothic readings of Victorian poems and stories.
A lovelorn fortune teller – popular in Victorian times – will try to lure guests into traditional games and activities.
“This thought that spirits are closer to the earth this time of year gave people the opportunity to reach out to them,” Gough said. “(Mediums) really became this craze. A lot of it however, was parlour tricks and theatrics. It became an opportunity to perform.”
A short-sighted medium will bring her brand of treachery offering a Victorian-era séance.
“You can’t talk about spirits and not talk about how it affected the living,” Gough said.
Magestic Theatre will become the lecture theatre, featuring seriously spooky but true tales from a collections manager, an archivist and an archaeologist.
Collections manager Delphine Castles will show the meaning hidden in the mourning clothing of early Victorians.
“She’s going to talk about the clothing and … how it passed along messages about how to behave and how to treat (widows).”
Archivist Ann ten Cate will share some of the tragic stories found in the B.C. Coroners’ reports, preserved at the B.C. Archives, and University of Victoria archaeologist Erin McGuire will show how she uncovers death as revealed in the archaeological record.
The Royal B.C. Museum hosts Night Shift: Living and Dying in Victorian Times on Oct. 25, and the evening includes a cash bar and light snacks.
Guests are invited to arrive between 7 and 8 p.m. to view other exhibits, then enjoy the party in Old Town at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $30 and are available only in advance.
Participants must be 19 years of age or older and photo ID will be required for entry. Visit royalbcmuseum.bc.ca for more information and to purchase tickets.