The Edges of Time: Cornerstones and Time Capsules of Early Victoria

Research Reflections

At first thought, the conceptual relevancies and links between time, buried objects, and cornerstones might seem obscure. The “Edges of Time: Cornerstones and Time Capsules of Early Victoria” strives to identify, strengthen, and explain such links. Using a ‘micro’ historical focus to analyze a specific set of ceremonies and actions, this project encourages its audience to ask bigger questions about the lives of Victoria residents in the Victorian period.1 Newspapers, photographs, scrapbooks, archival materials, books, and feedback from the community have all contributed to the information presented on this website.

Historical analysis of eight different buildings with eight different ceremonies and time capsules allows us to appreciate the diverse nature of these celebrations. The distinct character of the various religious and fraternal organizations influenced the act of commemoration at each respective ceremony. Despite these distinctions, however, there is a strong convergence of underlying themes that characterizes and unites the ceremonies featured on this website.

The laying of a cornerstone was a physical act, but it represented an ideological faith in the merits and necessity of upright, linear progress. Victoria’s citizens directly linked their ideological faith in progress to religious beliefs in God, Jesus Christ, and Christian conduct. Spiritual figures were referenced frequently in the ceremonies featured on this website. God was stated as the “Great Architect of the Universe” when the Masonic fraternity gathered to lay their cornerstone,2 and Jesus Christ was declared as the “foundation rock” at the Y.M.C.A. ceremony.3 A collection was taken at the ceremony for the Masonic Temple, and deposited on top of the cornerstone “ be applied for the benefit of the needy.”4 Colonization and municipal growth reinforced the strength and legitimacy of introduced religious faith and appropriated British custom and ceremony into British Columbia. The celebration of cornerstones was seen as a triumph of colonial success in a landscape that was often harsh and uncompromising.

Time capsules, referred to in Victorian times as “deposits” when placed behind, beneath, or within cornerstones, provoke a discussion of identity and representation in colonial Victoria. Wealth and title were strong themes during the Victorian era, and cornerstone deposits from this period generally represented a select colonial demographic of Victoria’s total population. American, British, and Canadian coins were often deposited together beneath the cornerstones, witnessing the complex loyalties and state affiliations of early settlers. The subscription and donation lists that were carefully deposited at cornerstone laying ceremonies serve as formal introductions to the settlers who lived in Victoria over one hundred years ago. The names of people mentioned in the constitution and by-law documents that were deposited characterize those citizens who were most successful in acquiring a strong community presence through title, land, and wealth. Membership in fraternal organizations had a strong business benefit, as did public affiliation with religious institutions. There is little mention of women in the items that were deposited, nor is there much mention of indigenous peoples or those who laboured in the construction of the buildings. Thus, Victorian time capsules allow for only limited interpretation of community demographics. They do, however, let us understand how people perceived themselves and those around them.

Above all, the authors of this website hope that you will come to your own conclusions about the Edges of Time. These ‘edges’ are different for every historic landscape, but it is true that similar cornerstone-laying ceremonies were carried out across British Columbia as colonization penetrated the province. The ceremonies have become rather obsolete through the 20th century, but time capsules are still being constructed by communities across Canada. The history of this past gives us pause in the present moment. It helps us ask how representation, identity, and ‘progress’ have changed through time. By reflecting on the ideas posed in the accompanying pages, considering the sources and resources we have used to support our research, and accessing other resources on the world wide web and in your communities, you will find that there are many questions motivated by the joint topic of cornerstones and time capsules. The Resources page may serve as a starting-off point for independent research interests. Good luck, have fun, and keep us informed about your own findings.