Having survived the Great Fire of 1886, Vancouver’s oldest building is now in danger due to COVID-19. Historical preservationists are trying to raise funds to save the Old Hastings Mill Store Museum, whose operations, they say, have been strained by a loss of volunteers, many of them seniors, and a shortfall in regular funding. In this story from our archives, we look back at the museum and some of the artifacts it houses.
Their website describes it beautifully: “When it’s quiet at the old Hastings Mill store you can hear the past whispering to you…”
Built in 1865, the Old Hastings Mill Store Museum is Vancouver’s oldest building, the last left standing after the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886. When you walk by it, the building looks as though it has fallen out of the past and landed intact, quietly by the ocean. And it kind of has. The “Old Mill Store” once stood at the foot of Dunlevy Street for more than 60 years. After being slated for demolition, it was rescued by the Native Daughters of British Columbia Post No. 1 and barged over to 1575 Alma Street. The Native Daughters reopened it as a museum in 1931.
Original Barkerville Photos from 1906 of gold miners, the 1836 steamship SS Beaver, Joe Fortes’s oil lamp, handmade dolls, and an original full-size Hansom cab are just a few of the many pieces of history housed within, complete with handmade labels.
Of the artifacts donated over the years, my favourite is the Victorian “human hair picture” created by Emily Adams in 1883. She coiled strands of her own hair into little bouquets and framed them; the piece is located just by the stairs that go up to the Native Daughters’ official meeting room.
The museum is a secret within a secret and, surprisingly, it’s open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. As Jacqui Underwood, chief factor of the Native Daughters, states: “If you don’t know where you come from, how do you know where you are going? We can learn so much from the past.”
This article from our archives was originally published on March 28, 2014. Read more about our vibrant community.