You’ve passed the little white and red house on the Farmers’ Institute grounds a zillion times on your way to the Salt Spring Recycling Depot. Maybe you’ve even seen the Bittancourt House Museum sign, but haven’t known if or when you could take a look inside.
You can, since the museum, with a street address of 351 Rainbow Rd., is open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Aug. 30. Admission is free, although donations are always welcome.
You should, because the museum is a special Salt Spring place with a lot of cool stuff. Built as a house in 1884 by Vesuvius pioneer Estalon Bittancourt, it’s a haven of island memorabilia, where both long time and newbie islanders, and tourists, can learn more about the history of the island.
All items on display have been donated by Salt Spring families, and represent island living from the late 1800s to the 1950s. There are four rooms full of treasures from the past, as well as an annex, showing how folks lived in bygone days.
No burgers and buns from the grocery store for pioneer gals. Check out the hand-cranked meat grinder and a tin pan shaped to hold four cylindrical loaves of cheese bread. For clothes washing, a scrub board, and a mangle to press out water.
Many more household items are on display, as well as an assortment of china, glass bottles, tins, jewellery and vintage clothing, like a 1920s blue wool bathing suit worn by pioneer Henry Beddis’ daughter Phoebe. The musically minded can play a pump organ and a Brunswick Victrola before taking it easy on a 1920 hide- a-bed. Called the Nofold Divane, its motto was “the most perfect sofa bed made.”
You’ll find all kinds of early tools, from planes, axes, saws and farm tools to early wrenches and even a hand-cranked sheep sheerer. There’s even a 19th-century horsedrawn sleigh, a “Cariole,” with a red velvet seat, brought to Salt Spring by a family who soon found our lack of snow restricted its use.
Many stunning photographs of pioneer life, and a huge early map drawn by a Salt Spring teacher in 1912, cover walls. The oak accounts cabinet from Patterson’s store in Fulford, complete with grocery bills for island families, and an intricate model of HMS Ganges, which took four years to build, are also must sees.
On Sunday, July 21, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the museum will be open to host Heritage Day, with free admission. There will be demonstrations of early crafts and skills, including basket weaving, butter churning and bread baking in the outdoor summer kitchen. Ian Hays will show off some cross-cut sawing and nail pounding, while Colin Byron and Natascha Wille demo an ox pull. You’ll see heritage chickens and vintage farm equipment.
You can play some old-fashioned games, like egg and spoon and sack races, with help from Marguerite Lee, and pose for a photo in an American Gothic cut-out or jail tableau. Musical guests will entertain, while a BBQ, Pie Ladies pie, and ice cream and confections from Penny’s Pantry will be available.
It’s a great day to get your pioneer on.