Each season in Barkerville we have the great pleasure of spotting wild animals in and around town. During the spring months in particular, before the bigger crowds arrive and as the high snow-pack melts, we often see foxes and martins. Black bears in Barkerville are occasionally observed in May and early-June, and Columbian ground squirrels (those little court jester critters we affectionately refer to as “whistle pigs”) delight park visitors with their silly antics from late-June until they disappear into hibernation in mid-August. Although we rarely encounter moose, deer or caribou onsite, we certainly see them on our drives to and from work, and all manner of wildlife make appearances throughout the year on the walk or carriage-ride to Richfield. This season, however, one particular animal sighting had an effect that none of us were expecting.
One morning in July my husband James and I were driving to work together, like we usually do. As we rounded the final corner before arriving in Barkerville, we saw something unusual. A few metres ahead of us a car was idling in the middle of the highway and we saw Barkerville’s Chief Executive Officer, Ed Coleman, standing beside the vehicle, talking to its driver through the window. It looked like he was diverting traffic. My husband was concerned.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“We would never be stopping people unless there was a major incident,” he said.
The car ahead pulled into the staff parking lot and we rolled up to Ed, who walked over to our car and told us that a grizzly bear had been spotted onsite early that morning, and it appeared to be injured.
“Conservation officers are on their way,” Ed said. “You should go to the administration building and stay there until we receive further instruction.”
In my twenty-two years at Barkerville nothing like this had ever happened before. My initial impulse was to be concerned for the bear, but I also felt my heart race a little. This was an exciting turn of events.
James and I went to where we had been told to muster. We met several of our friends and co-workers there, and together we used Facebook and Barkerville’s two-way radio system to get the story so far, to keep track of events as they unfolded, and to make sure everyone was safe and accounted for.
We quickly learned that one of our merchants had arrived onsite very early in the morning, only to find an enormous grizzly bear cowering in the main parking lot. As the giant animal ran from the human presence it appeared to be protecting one of its forearms. We also found out that staff and visitors who were already in Barkerville at the time were either gathered at the Visitors’ Reception Centre or had been instructed to stay where they were (at their respective workplaces, for example, or safe inside one of our onsite bed and breakfasts).
Cars were being stopped just short of Barkerville and it was politely suggested that drivers head back to nearby Wells and wait until the scene was declared safe, or wait in the overflow parking lot until further notice. Radios all around us squawked updates sporadically.
Once the conservation officers arrived, I quickly created a Facebook chat group for our street interpreters. We needed to make sure we could pinpoint the exact location of each of cast member. Our program manager was uptown in the dressing room. I was in the administration building. One of our actors was still in Wells, and he agreed to hop in his truck and search for a member of our team who was scheduled to work that day but was still unaccounted for. Once we’d found everyone, we waited… and waited… and then we waited some more.
From my window perch in the admin office I could see conservation officers working furiously, searching for any sign of the grizzly. The radio buzz around us was constant now, and I could almost keep up with what was happening outside, as it was happening.
Tracks had been discovered, we heard, and it became clear the bear was headed away from town. Basic plans were formulated to use a live trap, since there was no desire to harm the animal; the goal of everyone involved was to protect both the public and the grizzly. We heard how the officers were close to declaring the site safe, and we could also hear our CEO swiftly implementing a system whereby the air-horn sirens in Barkerville would sound if the bear was sighted again, signalling all staff and visitors to go straight inside the nearest building when and if they heard the alarm.
After about two hours we were given the “all clear” to go to work. Visitors, interpreters and staff flooded into town all at once, every one of us full of adrenaline from the excitement of this very unusual morning. For the next few days the alert system was kept active but it soon became clear the grizzly bear was no longer in the area and our routines quickly returned to normal.
The memory of that magnificent animal stays with us, however, as a reminder of the unique privilege and responsibility that comes along with working in the wilderness. I hope the bear, wherever it is, recovered from its injuries. I guess we will never know. I do know, however, that I have a newfound respect for the work of our provincial conservation officers, and for Barkerville’s knowledgeable and caring staff, both of whom sprang into action when the situation required it, ensuring Barkerville remained a safe and secure holiday destination despite our impressive, but unexpected, animal guest.
– Danette Boucher
The above one-panel cartoon (originally published August 22, 2015) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the twelfth of twenty weekly entries that were logged – and subsequently blogged – as part of a 2015 collaboration between Barkerville, British Columbia and the Prince George Citizen aimed at introducing the quirkier side of living, working, and playing in the Cariboo Goldfields. We hope you enjoy!