Canadian Genealogy · Genealogy How Tos

A trip to the archives #1 – the BC edition

Hey there, I’m finally back home for a little while. This past summer I’ve been all over, from Saskatoon to Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver and back. Along the way, I’ve managed to squirrel some time away at the archives of BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, so I’m going to share that with you in the next few posts.

The Archives of BC, Victoria

The Archives are located right downtown in beautiful Victoria, BC. They’re located in the same building as the BC Museum but while the museum entry fee is a startling $26.95 (seniors $18.95) pp, the archives are free.

Membership is free.

Even the lockers are free. That, my friends, is a screaming good deal.

Before you go

If you find yourself in Victoria, you can absolutely drop by and spend all your available free time at the archives. The hours are very forgiving to the traveller:

  • 10:00 – 8 pm Mon-Fri;
  • 1:00-5:00 Saturdays;
  • closed Sundays and holidays.

If you need help, including retrieving special files, archivists are on site 10:00 – 4:00 pm.

However, if you are like me and want to maximize your time, I highly recommend you plan your visit. Register before you go, so you can spend less time registering in person.

I spent some time on the BC Museum genealogy site before visiting in person. I had a list of 24 vital statistics I wanted to locate, and it saved immense amounts of time to have them in a list ready to go.

Also, bring a fresh, new flashdrive. More on that below.

Once you’re there

Signing in is very easy if you’ve already registered online. Give your name to the security guard with some photo ID, and your new BC researcher ID card will be printed for you. Swipe the card at the entry, sign in, note what you’re bringing into the room with you on the sheet provided, and you’re nearly there. There are free lockers for the rest of your belongings, and a water fountain in the foyer.
BC Archives Researcher Pass. © 2018 Past Presence. All rights reserved.

If it’s your first visit

I’ve used microfiche readers before, but I always ask for a quick refresher on the equipment before getting started. The archivists know their equipment very, very well, and will often tell you which machines they prefer and why. My archivist kindly gave me a personal tour of his favourite machine, plus his best tips for finding documents on microfiche, which I will share with you here. I used that machine to find the 24 records I was looking for, and let me tell you, after so many hours getting used to its particular quirks, I was briefly annoyed to see someone else using the machine the next day, which meant I had to learn the quirks of an entirely different machine. Sheesh. 🙂

I can completely sympathize with researchers who have microfiche reader preferences now.

Sample of a record – YIP Sang
Sample record from the BC Archives for YIP Sang

Here is a sample. Above is an index result for my great-grandfather, YIP Sang. The actual death record has not been made available online, so must either be requested or searched for on site.

You will need:

  • the BC Archives Mfilm number: B13131
  • The Registration Number’s last 6 digits: 384595

Use the Mfilm number to find the reel, which will be in a single cabinet of vital statistics. See the photo below. The records are filed like this: volume/record so the record I want is volume 384, record 595. There are only a few volumes per microfilm.

A great tip given to me is that if you need to skip through a volume to get to the next one, use the fast forward and watch the screen for a flash. The flash comes from the few blank frames between each volume, and is a super handy and quick way to get to the record you want. For example, if this microfilm had volumes 383-388, I’d fast forward through TWO flashes (one each for volumes 384 and 385), then see where I ended up on the document numbers. If I was starting at document #101, then I’d fast forward until I got closer to #595, and then slow down.
Death records at the BC Archives. © 2018 Past Presence. All rights reserved.

Once you’ve found your records, you have the option of either printing them or downloading them to a flash drive.

Where to stay

Victoria is highly compact and walkable, so anywhere downtown would probably suit you, but I recommend staying at Helm’s Inn. It is literally across the alleyway from the archives, features kitchenette suites, is reasonably priced, and has very cheap parking costs for registered guests. Added to that, they are warm and friendly, and there’s free tea and coffee 24/7. We paid $148 for a 2 bed suite, with an extra $5/day parking (and they didn’t charge us for the extra time parking on the second day).

We had just the one night stay, but the next trip I plan to the archives will be multi-day, because who can resist a morning at the archives, ducking back across the alley to your suite for tea and nibbles, then back across the alley for more archive time?

Where to eat

For food, don’t miss all day breakfast at Cup of Joe. It is a 12 minute walk from the BC archives / Helm’s Inn, and the food is fantastic. (If it’s a miserable day, it’s a 4 minute drive, and there’s a big parking lot right out front.)

We had La Rancheros Desayuno (huevos rancheros) and the Einstein (a huge plate of granola, fruit, yogurt and honey), and the portions were so humungous we didn’t need to eat again until dinner.

Getting to Victoria from Vancouver

After some debate, we opted to take the ferry from Vancouver’s Tsawassen ferry terminal to Victoria’s Swartz Bay. One car with 2 passengers costs $91.25 each way. I like ferries – there’s something so quintessentially BC about getting on a boat to get over to the Island. If you’re planning to go anytime between May and September, I recommend booking ahead. We didn’t, thinking how busy could it be on a Tuesday night and ended up just seven cars from the cutoff for the 7:00 pm ferry. We did make the 9:00 pm.

Reservations cost $21. Next time for sure.


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While it’s tempting to spend ALL your time at the archives, I’d like to share that we did get out to enjoy the spectacular fall weather in Victoria. We visited September 17 & 18, and the weather was so perfect that the leaves on the trees hadn’t started turning colours yet.

I want to emphasize this as I look out my window on the Saskatoon downtown skyline through a near blizzard of our first snowfall of the season.

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