This Week in History: The Kitty White Collection

The Royal BC Museum hopes all British Columbians know that this is your museum – and the collections are not objects that just sit on shelf, but are active pieces of history and engagement. And a great example of this is the Kitty White Collection.

In 1924, a number of pieces were donated to the Royal BC Museum, from Mrs. Kitty White.

“She was originally from Ahateset, which is a Nuu-Chan-Nulth community north of Nootka Sound” explains Dr. Martha Black, Curator of Ethnology for the Royal BC Museum.

“When she was quite young, a young woman, or even a girl, she was sent away, or removed from her family. The idea, I think, was that there was some sort of war between two First Nations, and as part of the d├ętente, it was a way of uniting dynasties, so that peace would come to the communities.”

She grew up with the Clallumn people in Beecher Bay, and eventually married a Mr. White. They raised their children in Sooke.

“And one day” explained Black, “her brother, who came from Ahateset, came and found her. Somebody who she hadn’t seen for years, and years, and years, and years. And he made her these pieces.

“Which is the reason why they’re very idiosyncratic versions of classical Nuu-Chan-Nulth regalia, because obviously she didn’t have any regalia, and the brother thought that she should have some regalia.”

A chest that she kept the pieces in is believed to be her great- or even great-great-grandfather’s.

“One of the great things about this collection is that many descendants of Kitty White, and there are a lot of descendants, come to the museum regularly to visit the works, and they make connections with their family around it.”

“For me,” says Black proudly, “it encapsulates almost everything about a museum collection in some ways.

“Even though they’re not great, great objects, you know, the kind of things you might see in an art gallery, I think they’re even more powerful than that, and they certainly have great power to bring people together.”

Kitty White died in 1930. The collection will be featured in the Museum’s family exhibition, opening June 2.