A tribute to the past

Pauline Rafferty

Pauline Rafferty

With an artist’s keen eye, Armando Barbon steps closer to his masterpiece and brushes away dust particles which only he can see.

It’s this attention to detail that allowed him to capture the essence of one of early Victoria’s most influential men in sculpture form: surgeon and politician Dr. John S. Helmcken.

Barbon’s life-sized bronze statue of the busy family doctor, with medical bag in one hand and a stethoscope around his neck, is so life-like it’s as if Helmcken just stepped off the front porch of his former home in Victoria’s Thunderbird Park to make a house call.

“He’s just heading off to see a patient,” says Barbon, who crafted, donated and unveiled the statue at the Royal B.C. Museum Thursday. “He’s actually in mid-stride.”

The garden party event in the square between Helmcken House and St. Ann’s Schoolhouse coincided with the grand re-opening of the two historic treasures.

For the past 10 months, the historical treasures were closed for $350,000 in renovation work paid for by more than 260 donors.

The project included the installation of a unique, high-tech fire-suppression system – which won’t be visible to visitors but will ensure the facilities are preserved for generations to come.

“We’re preparing it to keep it for the next 100 years,” says Lorne Hammond, curator of history for the Royal B.C. Museum, which operates the two circa-1850s buildings.

“That’s not a sexy thing to raise money for,” he adds. “But it will keep this house safe for the next century. It’s terribly important.”

Along with newly added detailing and artifacts, exhibits in two of B.C.’s oldest buildings now feature interpretation panels to help connect visitors with the past – just as Barbon was able to connect with Helmcken and his legacy. In 1867 he helped negotiate B.C.’s entry into Canada.

“He’s my friend,” Barbon says. “I’ve been thinking of him for a long time.”

Helmcken House and St. Ann’s Schoolhouse are open to the public 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily until Sept. 6. Admission is by donation, or included with museum admission.

emccracken@vicnews.com