Linda Crampton is a writer who lives in Greater Vancouver. She enjoys walking and likes to take photographs of her discoveries.
A Visit to the Past
The Burnaby Village Museum is a reconstructed village that represents life in British Columbia in the 1920s. A visit to the museum is always interesting and enjoyable. Staff members wearing 1920s costumes act as hosts and play roles that were traditionally part of village or small town life at that time. The general store clerk, the teacher in the one room schoolhouse, the Chinese herbalist, the blacksmith, and other hosts are available to answer visitors' questions. A special treat at the museum is to watch or ride on the beautifully restored carousel from 1912.
For several years, my family has celebrated Canada Day (July 1st) by going to the Burnaby Village Museum. The celebration involves musical performances and includes special guests, such as RCMP officers in dress uniform. Visitors are offered a slice of a giant birthday cake or sometimes a Canada Day cupcake instead. I took most of the photos in this article on recent Canada Days and the rest during visits at other times of the year.
The museum’s website should be checked before a planned visit to see whether it's open. When this article was last updated, the museum was planning to open according to its usual schedule and to operate normally. The changing coronavirus situation may result in new conditions, however.
History of the Museum
Burnaby is a city in the Canadian province of British Columbia. It adjoins Vancouver, which is the biggest city in the province. The Burnaby Village Museum opened in 1971, although it was known as Heritage Village at first. The museum is in Deer Lake Park and is located next to heritage homes from the 1920s—one of which has become part of the museum—and a lake surrounded by trails.
Some of the buildings in the village are original and have been transported there from nearby sites. Others are realistic replicas. The furnishings inside the buildings are either original or are items that are as similar as possible to the original versions.
In this article, I describe some of the highlights of a visit to the Burnaby Village Museum. I also describe some of the heritage homes that can be seen just outside the museum grounds.
The museum contains three main sections: the countryside, which contains a farmhouse and a creek, the village, which contains most of the buildings, and the meadow, which is a large area of grass in front of the carousel pavilion.
Elworth House in Burnaby
Elworth: An Original Building and Location
Elworth House, or Elworth, is one of the first buildings seen after entering the museum grounds via the entrance by the carousel. (There are two entrances to the museum.) The house was built in 1922 for Edwin Bateman and his wife Mary. Bateman was a retired Canadian Pacific Railway executive. He named his new home after his birthplace in England.
The house and its garage are the only original buildings in the museum that are still located on their original site. The City of Burnaby bought Elworth in 1970, although at that time Burnaby was a municipality, not a city. The home became the nucleus of the new museum.
Elworth is an attractive but relatively modest building compared to some of the other heritage residences in Deer Lake Park. I prefer its appearance to that of its more grandiose neighbours, though.
Elworth was designed by architect Enoch Evans. The front of the house has a long veranda supported by columns. The gabled roof has a front shed dormer. A dormer is a structure that protrudes from a sloping roof. The roof of a shed dormer points downward at an angle less than that of the roof. The veranda, the graceful columns, the sunny colour of the paint, the dormer, and the attractive landscaping in front of the house combine to make a very pleasant scene.
The Interior of Elworth House
Seaforth School was a one-room schoolhouse that opened in 1922 with 20 students. It was originally located in an area on the north side of Burnaby Lake. The building was moved to the Burnaby Village Museum, restored, and opened to the public in 1987.
The Seaforth School contains a British flag and has pictures of King George V and Queen Mary on the wall. In the 1920s, Canada was under British rule. The school also contains a large stove, which would have been useful for heating the building in winter.
Life at Seaforth School in the 1920s
According to the museum, a typical school day in the 1920s began with the singing of "God Save the King" and the recitation of the Lord's Prayer. This was followed by the teacher inspecting the students' hands and finger nails.
When class work began, the teacher may have had to help students in as many as eight different grades. The students wrote with pens that had to be dipped in an inkwell in order to write.
Lunch and snacks were carried in tins, baskets, or pieces of cloth. Typical foods included apples, cheese, hard boiled eggs, homemade bread, sandwiches, cake, and cookies. Games during breaks included marbles and hopscotch.
The Seaforth School holds a popular program for local elementary school children. The children play the role of students from the 1920s to help them better understand what life was like at that time. They participate in a typical but greatly shortened day. (No student is ever expected to sing or say the anthem or the Lord's Prayer if it isn't part of their religion or if they or their family objects to it.)
The Burnaby Post Newspaper
The Burnaby Post building contains a functioning printing press. It's very interesting to see this machine in action. The "Burnaby Post" was a real community newspaper in the 1920s and 1930s. Each edition was four to eight pages long and took about a week to set up and print.
In addition to newspapers, print shops of the 1920s produced items such as advertisements, signs, business cards, invitations, and tickets. By today's standards, the printing jobs were very cumbersome because type had to set by hand. Each piece of type had to be put into place individually. Letters had to be positioned upside down so that words would print correctly when inked in the printing press.
The Interurban Tram
The restored Interurban tram #1223 is on display in the tram barn and is open to visitors. The tram was active between 1913 and 1958. Interurban #1223 was owned by B.C. Electric and transported both people and goods.
In the 1950s, buses started to replace trams and tram tracks were removed. The Interurban #1223 was one of only seven trams owned by B.C. Electric that weren't destroyed when they were no longer needed. However, it seemed for a while that vandals and the elements would end up destroying Interurban #1223 anyway.
In 2000, a group of dedicated volunteers came together to raise money for the restoration of the tram. After many hours of painstaking work, the vehicle was returned to its original condition. It's now a popular exhibit at the museum. The tram can function and has been placed on a short track that ends at a station. It spends most of its time in its barn, however. Here it can be explored by the public while being protected from the elements.
Burnaby Village Museum Photos
C.W. Parker Carousel Facts and History
The indoor carousel at the Burnaby Village Museum was built in 1912 by the C.W. Parker company in Kansas and sold in 1913. It was the 119th carousel made by the company and is sometimes known as Parker #119.
The carousel spent the first two years of its existence travelling around Texas with the Lone Star Circus. From 1915 to 1936 its fate is unknown, but it's thought to have travelled from place to place in the United States. In 1936, Parker #119 was purchased by a Vancouver amusement park called Happyland. Happyland was demolished in 1957. The carousel was then sent to another Vancouver amusement park called Playland, which still exists.
In 1989, Playland announced that the carousel would be dismantled and sold horse by horse at an auction. A group of concerned citizens formed an organization called "Friends of the Vancouver Carousel Society" to prevent this fate. The Burnaby Village Museum agreed to provide a home for the carousel, so the Society carried out a fundraising campaign to purchase and renovate it. The public, various organizations, and government all donated money to the campaign. Donors were able to sponsor and name a horse. (Each horse on the carousel has its own name.)
In 1990, enough funds were available to buy the carousel and transport it to its new home, which was a pavilion built by the museum. Here it has become a very popular exhibit. The carousel has been beautifully renovated and is in working order. One of the Playland horses hasn't been restored and can be seen in a display case by the carousel. "Old Paint" shows how the horses looked before they were restored.
The music for the Parker #119 carousel ride is provided by a 1925 Wurlitzer military band organ. This can mimic the music produced by a large band and produce 90 decibels of sound. Like the carousel, it is carefully and lovingly maintained by enthusiastic staff members at the museum.
Other Museum Highlights
There are many other interesting sights to see at the Burnaby Village Museum. One of these is the Jesse Love farmhouse. This is one of the oldest buildings in Burnaby. It was built in 1893 and moved to the museum in 1988. The ground floor has been restored to its 1925 condition.
Other interesting sights include a:
- functioning blacksmith shop
- general store
- Chinese herbalist shop
- music store
- movie house
- steam locomotive ("Old Curly")
Old Curly is the oldest surviving steam locomotive in British Columbia.
More Museum Photos
Facilities at the Museum
The museum has an ice cream parlour/restaurant that sells modern treats and food to visitors. In summer, ice cream is often sold in the street as well. The ice cream parlour and a multipurpose room can be rented for special events.
The site also has an attractive church that is a replica of a 1920s version and is open to the public. The church seats about eighty people. It can be rented for weddings and other events.
A gift shop is located next to the carousel pavilion. Washrooms are available in several places on the museum grounds. The museum is a wheelchair-accessible site.
Visiting the Burnaby Village Museum
Under normal circumstances, the museum is open from early May to early September for the summer season and from 11 am to 4:30 pm on each day. During the summer, the museum is open on weekdays and weekends but is closed on non-holiday Mondays.
The museum reopens for a Halloween celebration in late October. The third opening is for the enjoyable Heritage Christmas celebration. This takes place between late November and January 1st. The museum is usually closed on December 24th and 25th, however.
The museum sometimes opens at other times. For at least the past few years, it has been open during the spring break for school students (as well as other people). It's a good idea to check the museum's website before a visit in order to discover the latest information about open hours and admission costs.
Museum admission during the summer season and the Christmas event is currently free, but the Halloween event with its haunted house isn't. Money is needed if visitors want to buy food at the restaurant, purchase items at the gift shop, or activate the player piano located in the music store, which I always like to do. Carousel rides are currently $2.65 for all ages.
Entrances and Transport
The main entrance to the museum is located at Canada Way and Deer Lake Avenue. This entrance takes people to the countryside area of the museum, which contains the Jesse Love farmhouse and an orchard. A bridge over Deer Lake Brook leads to the village and the meadow. Another entrance is located on the other side of the museum by the carousel and gift shop. This leads directly to the village.
Parking is available for drivers, and bus stops are located by the museum. Parking by the carousel entrance is limited, however. The TransLink website has lots of useful information for people travelling by public transit, including details about routes, schedules, and fares. TransLink vehicles are all wheelchair accessible.
The museum website contains some interesting information in addition to facts about the village and is worth visiting. According to the website, these are some examples of 1920s slang with their modern equivalents.
- keen = appealing
- glad rags = special clothes
- nifty = great or excellent
- heebie jeebies = the jitters
- sinker = doughnut
- giggle water = alcohol
- splifficated = drunk
- berries = the best, or perfect
Deer Lake Park in Burnaby
It's enjoyable and easy to explore Deer Lake Park beyond the boundaries of the Burnaby Village Museum. Originally, "Deer Lake Park" meant an area to the east of Deer Lake where large and expensive homes were built. Now that trails have been built around the lake, the term "Deer Lake Park" refers to the entire area surrounding the lake.
A beach with a playground is located beside the lake, as shown in the video above. Non-motorized boat rentals are available in this area. The park also contains a wilder landscape, which is enjoyable for nature lovers. Entrances to the trails and the beach are located close to the museum.
Another attraction in the park is the heritage homes, which like Elworth were built in the early twentieth century. Some of the buildings are no longer used as homes, however. Avalon is now the Hart House Restaurant, for example, Altnadene is part of the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, and Fairacres has become the Burnaby Art Gallery. All of these buildings are located close to the museum.
Fairacres, Ceperley House, or the Burnaby Art Gallery
The Burnaby Art Gallery is known not only for its art but also for its ghosts. It was built in 1911 for Henry and Grace Ceperley and at that time was known as "Fairacres". The mansion was accompanied by a large estate and was intended to be a retirement home. The home was actually bought by Grace, who had inherited a large amount of money from her brother-in-law.
When Grace died in 1917, she left Fairacres to her husband with the stipulation that if it was ever sold some of the money must be used to build a children's playground in Stanley Park. In 1922, Henry Ceperley sold the home. A story circulating on the Internet says that Ceperley ignored his wife's request and kept all the money from the sale of the house. In true ghost story fashion, this supposed defiance of his wife's wishes is often suggested as the reason for the spooky happenings at the art gallery.
The accusation of ignoring his wife's request may be unfair to Henry Ceperley. According to the Stanley Park Ecology Society, the first children's playground in the park and in Vancouver was established in the Ceperley Meadow area. Today this play area is known as Ceperley Playground. Perhaps it was created too late for Grace's liking.
The Ghosts of Burnaby Art Gallery
Many people have reported strange occurrences at the art gallery. Some of these events include:
- the appearance of a women wearing a flowing white dress in the style of an earlier time. She travels through walls and creates an atmosphere of tranquility tinged with sadness. The woman is usually assumed to be Grace Ceperley. Her presence has been reported by multiple people and on different occasions.
- children crying on the unused third floor
- the sound of scraping chairs and furniture on the third floor
- a report by a gallery employee that a ghost in the basement hung his tools on the wall every time he put them down and turned away from them
Do the ghosts of Burnaby Art Gallery really exist? I don't know, but they are an intriguing topic. I often think about them when I go to the Burnaby Village Museum and look at life as it was in the 1920s.
References and Resources
- The Burnaby Village Museum website is a useful resource for visitors.
- TransLink runs the Burnaby and Vancouver public transit system.
- Page 31 of this PDF document from the Stanley Park Ecology Society mentions that Vancouver’s first children’s playground was established at Ceperley Meadow.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Linda Crampton