British Columbia Museum Notes Camping History

January 22, 2013 by   - () Leave a Comment

A poster promoting a history of camping exhibit at a museum in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

The call for contributions for an exhibition titled “In Tents: How We Camped” in the Nainamo Museum in Nainamo, British, Columbia, has turned up some unusual local camping stories.

Centered around the regional history and folklore of camping, the exhibit is a nostalgic look at how people took to the great outdoors in the days before bring-it-all-with-you RVs, the Nainamo Daily News reported.

Many of the displays were donated by locals, and museum curator David Hill-Turner, has even brought in and set up his own 1970s-era pup tent.

“I was a budget camper,” laughed Hill-Turner, who said the exhibit explores the world of camping from the 1800s up into the present. He said most of the portable ultra-light equipment we are familiar with today didn’t come onto the market until the 1950s and ’60s.

A cast-iron camping stove with chimney that appears almost child-sized sits in one corner, a far cry from today’s propane-portable standards. There is a variety of other tents, a small tin cookware display, a mesh metal campfire popcorn popper, a display case filled with a variety of cooking stoves, and an exhibit of oil lamps and portable lighting devices that explore the variety of pre-lightbulb and battery-operated options.

One wall tent, modeled on what people used in the 1800s on into today, is made from canvas and would have been lashed to small cut trees and waterproofed with linseed oil, said Hill-Turner. It was contributed by Bill and Donna Sainsbury, whose current camping practices actually extend back as far as the history of their tent.

They’re known as “re-enactors” and spend the summer camping as many British Columbians do, but the catch is that everything they use – cookware, clothing, shelter, tools – dates back to before the 1840s.

“Our period is basically up to 1840 and it revolves around the North American fur trade. It also revolves around the use of muzzle-loading firearms: the flintlocks and the percussion items,” said Sainsbury. “I use antique firearms. I have one that was made in 1799 and another one in 1845 and I maintain and restore them.”

Re-enactors host various primitive camps throughout North America, and are a wide-reaching and loose-knit community closely tied with fish and game clubs. Within these clubs is usually a group of black powder aficionados: Sainsbury’s local group is called the Mount Benson Buckskinners.

“We’re so incredibly soft now compared to what we were 150 years ago,” mused Sainsbury, who calls himself a history buff.

The largest summer camp the Sainsburys attend just north of Kamloops, runs for 10 days and is host to over 140 camps, 35 to 40 of them in the “primitive” area.

Camp activities involve good-natured competitions in longbow archery, tomahawk, knife and lance throwing, and target shooting with black powder firearms, all while dressed in historical clothing.

“My wife has some original stuff from the 1880s, which is not really as old but it looks the same,” said Sainsbury.

They wear woven cotton in the colours of the time period and pants with no pockets or zippers and pullover shirts.

“It’s to have a good time the way people used to do it, rather than today with all the modern convenience and the fluorescent lanterns and the catalytic heaters,” said Sainsbury. “History tells us who we are.”

The museum is actively seeking to collect camping images and stories for their exhibit. Email with ‘Camping’ in the subject line, or stop by and drop items off at their front desk at 100 Museum Way downtown.

In Tents: How We Camped runs until April 27. For information, visit www.nanaimomuseum. ca or check out www.facebook. com/NanaimoMuseum.



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