I love a well-crafted story. I love to hear an anecdote told just right, with a strong through-line, plot twists and curves, switchbacks, tension, a climax and a satisfying conclusion. Throughout my career as an historical interpreter the act of collecting, crafting and telling stories has fueled my professional life.
Tonight at the Sunset Theatre in Wells a celebrated Canadian storyteller named TJ Dawe presented his latest one-man tour-de-force, Marathon. TJ creates that kind of transcendent theatrical experience wherein a performer reaches into our own, near-bottomless well of experiences and makes us understand stuff we already knew, although we didn’t necessarily know we knew it. Audience members all around me were constantly making noises of surprised self-recognition. We were watching a master storyteller recount a multi-faceted tale, and it was delightful.
Talking with TJ after his performance I asked what his favourite part of creating a show is. He has, after all, written, performed and toured with dozens of his own plays, as well as helped to create multi-character pieces with other artists. TJ said: “I love when I am breaking in a new one, when I’m figuring it out, learning how to make it work.” On this point, I completely concur. There are few things more exhilarating to a storyteller than that golden time spent working with each successive audience to smooth the rough edges of a story until it is a polished, gleaming nugget. Every time we speak the words we learn more about how a given tale wants to be told.
Every Thursday at the Theatre Royal in Barkerville, for example, my husband James performs a 60-minute monologue I wrote for him called The Fred Wells Show. The play is exactly what it purports to be: a story about the man for whom the community of Wells (where we live) was named. The story of Wells is inherently fascinating, and brimming with humanity. As the author of this particular version of the story I must, to some degree, get out of its way. My greatest challenge as a playwright tackling a (mostly) true story is to be adept and practiced enough to notice the natural drama in the tale, and then let it shine forth in as honest a fashion as I can. I am not necessarily inventing the story, but I am pushing it a little bit this way and that way, scooting it along, slowing it down in places, speeding it up in other places, letting it flow.
It’s a lot like performing an historical walking tour of Barkerville. I like to think of the town tour as one deep story filled with a lot of smaller stories. I love stopping in front of the Bowron House, for example, to talk about the group of adventurers who left Ontario and Quebec in 1862 on a cross-country journey to the Cariboo Gold Rush. They were called Overlanders.
The Overlanders story starts off, casually enough, as a tale of the difficult realities of long-distance travel during the Victorian era. In the beginning it has some reassuringly comedic elements, like how the novice group of gold-seekers erroneously expected to walk from Winnipeg to Barkerville… in five weeks. As the story progresses, however, the initial novelty of the Overlanders’ miscalculation – which at first seems sweetly naïve – turns dark and menacing. The travellers soon find themselves in grave danger and, eventually, on the brink of starvation.
My account of the Overlanders story features its sole female protagonist, Catherine Schubert, who was pregnant throughout what proved to be a five month walking trip. Mrs. Schubert gave birth to her child the very day she arrived at Fort Kamloops via homemade raft on the North Thompson River. I then bring the story back home, to Barkerville, by circling to its beginning and ending where I started, with John Bowron, Overlander – whose house we are standing in front of. The whole story takes only five minutes to tell, but in that brief period we have, as a group, time-travelled more than 150 years and crossed an entire continent… together. Then, together, we move on to the next story, and the next.
Storytelling is one of the most important ways we as humans make sense of the world, and make sense of our place in it. Through storytelling, we connect – and intersect – our lives. As watchers and listeners, audiences are able to take a story from me, carry it away from Barkerville, and keep it. The story is still mine, of course, but once I tell it it’s also yours. We share it, and it becomes part of a much deeper story; the story of us.
– Danette Boucher
The above one-panel cartoon (originally published August 29, 2015) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the thirteenth 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!
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!
Regular visitors to Barkerville get to know our cast of historical characters very well. We love welcoming repeat guests, and we love it when visitors appreciate the various roles we play. But there is a second cast of characters that adds a lot of life and heart to Barkerville – the animals. The animals of Barkerville are a huge part of the ambiance and community of our gold rush town.
For example, I was on my way up the main street of Barkerville this afternoon when something made me stop in my tracks. I saw that Mr. Hamilton, our teamster, had paused right in the middle of the road with his freight wagon. His horse, Shorty, had her head bowed down. Shorty, a big brown draft, is a local favourite. She is a gentle giant; a naturally social animal with endless patience for the constant stream of people who want to pat her or coo at her.
For a few seconds I couldn’t see why the horse was stopped so unusually, but soon realized her nose was resting on the lap of a little girl in a motorized wheelchair. The girl was gently stroking Shorty’s face, and Mr. Hamilton was wordlessly facilitating this quiet exchange. I watched them for a while, then looked around and realized that a few other people nearby were also witnessing this moment and, like me, were spellbound by the beauty of such a tender connection between horseman, horse and visitor. We all watched in silence, unwilling to break the reverie of that moment with the slightest whisper. Shorty eventually raised her big head up, signalling that she was ready to move along, and the wheelchair and freight wagon rolled off in opposite directions.
Earlier in the day I had popped in for a visit with Miss Wendle, the woman who keeps the Wendle House alive with authentic cooking, domestic activities, and interpretive programming. We were sitting at her kitchen table when a cacophony of squawking erupted from her chicken coop outside.
“Oh, there must be a beast under my house,” Miss Wendle said.
We got up and headed outside to investigate if there was indeed a fox or martin or some other manner of predator stalking her birds. We found nothing, but I was delighted by Miss Wendle’s affection for her little gaggle of irritated fowl.
“Ladies, ladies…” Miss Wendle called to them. “Are you singing ‘Hallelujah’ again?”
The chickens squawked even more loudly and proudly at the sight of their keeper, as if to say: “Do you see us?” The scene was so sweet it made me laugh out loud.
When I started my first Barkerville season twenty-two years ago, I was quickly introduced to the town cat. She was old, grey, and everyone called her “Bag Lady.” Bag Lady seemed to have a hint of permanent irritation on her tiny little face, as if she had seen more than her fair share of annoying things and just wanted to be left alone already. But if you had the time to give her a good scratch, she would purr heartily and press her head vigorously against you.
For years Bag Lady roamed the streets of Barkerville. No one could pinpoint when or how she had turned up on site. She had always just been there, culling the rodent population and keeping us all in order. When Bag Lady grew very old, one of the merchants on site, Kathy, began taking her home to Wells for the winters. When Bag Lady finally died (as far as anyone could work out, she had been in Barkerville for more than 20 seasons herself) another cat showed up. Quite out of the blue a little grey tabby, just out of kitten-hood, made her Barkerville entrance just as Bag Lady took her final bow. The new cat was quickly named “Prancer” and she took up right where Bag Lady left off as the self-appointed Barkerville mouser.
Prancer made regular rounds of Barkerville. She knew which shops and restaurants could be counted on to feed her, and she knew all the warm places where she could take refuge on a cold day. When I worked at the Theatre Royal we often found Prancer waiting outside the doors for someone to let her in so she could curl up and nap on one of the greenroom couches. She even made a few unexpected appearances onstage during the show, much to the delight of the audiences and unsuspecting actors.
A few seasons ago Prancer reached her dotage and Kathy dutifully brought the cat, like Bag Lady before her, home to Wells. Prancer now stays with Kathy permanently, as her fragile health demands, but every few weeks during the summer Kathy brings Prancer to Barkerville and lets her loose to survey her stomping grounds. On Prancer’s most recent visit, Kathy said: “Look at her.” She pointed to the little cat. “She just loves these visits,” she said. “This is her home.”
And Kathy is right. Our Barkerville animals bring such heart to the streets. This is their home, too, and I can’t imagine the town without them.
– Danette Boucher
The above one-panel cartoon (originally published August 15, 2015) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the eleventh 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 some of the quirkier advantages of living, working, and playing in the Cariboo Goldfields. We hope you enjoy!
When you work at a place like Barkerville for as long as I have, you tend to think of life as a series of summer seasons, each with its own set of tiny quirks and big, defining moments. We are now into August, the homestretch, the last weeks of summer before we slide into the shoulder season of September. By August our bodies and minds are bit tired, and we sometimes find ourselves distracted by the realization that post-Barkerville life is suddenly within view – again. In August we also generally have a sense of how a season will be remembered in years to come.
This season will be one the staff and interpreters of Barkerville think about for a long time. First of all, this was the one year in recent memory when we walked onsite in May and noticed a complete absence of the traditional, colossal spring snowbanks. Winter was mild, so we began our annual school program with ground that was free of spring runoff. Instead, the grass was green and we found ourselves speaking of the possibility of a long, hot summer. But that isn’t what actually happened. Yes, we experienced some extreme heat, but we saw impressive cold snaps as well. Yesterday was so chilly it felt like it might snow at any second, and now as August settles in some of the Cottonwood leaves are already changing colour. This is not the weather we were expecting.
Barkerville is always full of surprises.
We’ve experienced a major turn-around in tourism in British Columbia this season, and it’s been a welcome surprise. Numbers are up all over the province, and we have been enjoying a busy summer with bustling Barkerville streets. Performers love to play to large audiences, and some days the visiting population of our gold rush town has swelled to a thousand people or more. I enjoy every group I tour through town no matter how many guests are present, but nothing beats the excitement of a great big crowd travelling up the main street, sharing a common experience that my cast mates and I have had the privilege of facilitating.
Barkerville’s Historic Street program, the interpretation program I am part of, saw the introduction of two new cast members this season, and they’ve been wonderful. The documented historical characters of Dr. Wilkinson and Miss Isabella Irvine are welcome additions to our roster, and the actors we’ve hired to play them have made a strong first impression. They are doing a great job, and we all enjoy working with them so much.
This season not only introduced new interpreters to the streets of Barkerville, it also saw the rise of an exciting new display. For years we have wanted to recreate the original Barker & Co. Discovery Shaft and Shaft House, in its original spot in the centre of town, and this year we managed to do it. And all of it was captured on film by HGTV’s Timber Kings. We will always remember the excitement of watching the exhibit under construction, and once we’ve integrated the display into our programming after its official launch on Labour Day, we will no doubt look back fondly at this past spring, and the joy of seeing the artists from Pioneer Log Homes at work.
So far it has been a season of both joy and sorrow. We have been knocked to the ground with grief at the loss of a dear friend and colleague, yet we’ve also been able to smile a little with the recent news of a baby born to one of our most popular interpreters and his partner, a woman who has lived and worked in Wells and Barkerville for most of her life. Sometimes life can bring unimaginable pain and enormous delight in such quick succession.
What a season this has turned out to be. We still have weeks to go before I hang up my hoop-skirts, but I find myself taking this month of August to savour the last of the summer and to be thankful for yet another year in Barkerville. I also start to wonder what next season has in store…
– Danette Boucher
The above one-panel cartoon (originally published August 8, 2015) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the tenth 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 some of the quirks of living, working, and playing in the Cariboo Goldfields. We hope you enjoy!
Early this afternoon I was in my Barkerville dressing room hunting for some fingerless gloves. The day had turned unexpectedly warm and I needed to shed my regular, now uncomfortable gloves and swap them for a cooler pair. As I was banging about in my costume drawers there was a knock at the door. I opened it to find my husband, James. At first I was happy for this unexpected visit, but then I saw his face, and I knew.
For the past week and a half we have been painfully aware that what had happened was a possibility, but somehow we couldn’t imagine that it would ever be reality. Today we learned that our Wells-Barkerville community lost one of the brightest stars we have known.
Thirteen years ago Tim Sutherland came into the Barkerville fold as next in a line of truly fine actors to tackle the formidable role of Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie. My husband, James Douglas, had already known Tim for years, and in 2002 managed to convince the renowned actor, director and historian to come up to Williams Creek and accept the challenge of playing the iconic, and infamous, “Hanging Judge.” James understood that the man who plays Begbie must be well-seasoned, versatile, quick-witted and fiercely intelligent. Tim Sutherland was all of that and more.
Tim promised us one season… but, as was the case with so many before him, Barkerville and Wells captured him and one season led to another and another and another. He loved the site, the history, the community. He loved it here so much, in fact, that a few years ago he opted to make Wells his permanent home. He kept an apartment here, even when his professional and academic commitments kept him elsewhere for most of the rest of the year.
Tim graced the Cariboo with his excellent interpretation of colonial law and early justice, and he spent hours upon hours of his life joyfully creating theatre in the evenings and on his days off. He wrote material for and collaborated on the creation and performances of the popular Sunset Cabaret, he produced and directed plays here and abroad, and was constantly organizing readings of new, as-yet-unproduced work. Recently Tim returned to university to pursue a second graduate degree in theatre. When he wasn’t making art, he was talking about it. He ate, drank and breathed theatre. He loved everything about it, and it showed.
This season was the happiest I have ever seen Tim. He was deeply in love. He directed the world premiere of a new play by an up-and-coming playwright from the National Theatre School, Godhead, which is currently running in rep at the Sunset Theatre in Wells. He loved presenting the Early Justice School Program in Barkerville, which he and his fellow interpreters had polished into a virtuoso piece of interactive museum performance. He was just about to return to Alberta to defend his Master’s thesis. He was, as we say, living the dream.
When Tim fell ill ten days ago our Wells-Barkerville community rallied. If it was possible for love, respect and affection to heal a person, Tim would still be here. We all wished and hoped as hard as we ever had. But we could not save him.
It is impossible to think how we will get through the heartache of walking into the Wells Hotel pub and not seeing Tim there, on a barstool, holding court. How will we ever walk to Richfield, or see a play at the Sunset Theatre, or pop into the House Hotel after work, without bursting into tears in the face of the gaping hole this man has left in our lives?
Today we are an open wound. But tomorrow things will feel a little better. Gradually, we will learn to adjust to this new world without Tim in it. And, eventually, we will find that place of gratitude; that place which helps us understand how rich we are for having known him, and loved him. Our Tim.
– Danette Boucher
The above one-panel cartoon (originally published August 1, 2015) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the ninth 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 some of the realities of living, working, and playing in the Cariboo Goldfields. Thank you for reading.
A large part of my job as a first-person historical interpreter is to give voice to those who can no longer speak for themselves. I try to never lose sight of the awesome responsibility that has been entrusted to me. I represent my character, but I also have the opportunity, through that character, to represent all the women and men who have passed through Barkerville over the years.
Historical interpreters tend to keep a mental inventory of the daily questions we are asked. We might remember certain questions because they are asked so often (questions like: “How do you sit in that hoop skirt?” and “Are you hot in that costume?” or “Where is the jail?” etc.) Other queries stand out because they are unique to the given situation and enrich our existing bodies of knowledge by forcing us to piece together shards of what we have already learned into a reasonable hypothesis (questions like: “Why was gold so valued?” and “Were the first women on the creek close to one another?” or “Why did Billy Barker sell out his shares so soon?” etc.)
Then there are the questions that we both love and dread, depending on how they are asked.
I blame Hollywood for the unfortunate and sadly prevalent notion that there were only two kinds of women in any given gold rush. The first was someone’s diligent wife; she shows up occasionally. The second was the prostitute; according to the movies she made up about 99% of the female population, and she had a heart of gold.
The character I play in Barkerville, Miss Florence Wilson, came from an upper-middle-class background in England. She was a published author, and had travelled to Russia before making her way to Vancouver Island aboard the first so-called “bride-ship,” the Tynemouth. Once she arrived in Barkerville Florence became the first librarian in British Columbia’s colonial history, a driving force behind the creation of the Theatre Royal, an investor in at least two mining properties, and a well-regarded saloon keeper. I consider it an honour to interpret Miss Wilson’s life. She was an entrepreneur at a time when that was nearly unheard for women in western society. She made a significant mark on the historical record of the Cariboo Gold Rush, when most women were not even mentioned by name in the archives and newspapers.
When I play Florence I wear modest dress and speak with an upper class British dialect, and yet, nearly every day in Barkerville I am asked if I am a prostitute or a brothel keeper. This happens even after I have explained Miss Wilson’s important contributions to the development of the Province. It is, honestly, the most tedious and disheartening of inquiries.
I wouldn’t really mind the question if it was asked in a respectful way, but it rarely is. It is mostly asked by older men who seem to find some hilarity in being bold enough to broach the subject. “Are you one of ‘those’ women?” they always ask, or “When you say you are a ‘librarian’ is that a euphemism?” My interrogators often assume they are being clever (the words “Didn’t I see you coming out of the Sporting House just now?” are usually followed by raucous, self-congratulatory laughter). I’ve even had groups of men descend, mischievous grins on faces, and say things like: “Hey, where’s the brothel?”
There are two reasons these questions irk me so much. First of all, it is indicative of the sad (and not in the least bit humourous) stereotype that most women in history were hookers. Just like in modern times, the vast majority of history’s females were not. Secondly, it turns the true life stories of history’s prostitutes into a joke, and they were anything but.
Of course there were prostitutes and brothel keepers in the Cariboo Gold Rush. Their stories are as varied and fascinating as every other character. Many had fallen into a brutal life through unspeakable misfortune. Some were undoubtedly entrepreneurial, recognizing a business in which they might prosper. But many were relegated to a life they had never wanted or imagined. A life they often did not survive.
I can only speculate on the reasons why some women of the gold rush wound up in this line of work. My personal guess is that most women who entered that life did so as a last resort. Regardless of how the prostitutes of our gold rush chose their vocation, their stories deserve to be considered and respected. We must refuse to allow these women’s lives to be reduced to lascivious punchlines.
Last week I met a historian from Kamloops. At the end of my town tour she approached and asked me about the hurdy gurdy dancing girls, and if some of them might have also been prostitutes. I answered according to my research, and was very honest about the fact that my answer would be, in large part, speculative. She told me some fascinating stories she’d uncovered about gold rush-era prostitutes in Kamloops. We had a great, in-depth conversation, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with someone who asked about prostitution from a historical perspective, with concern and care.
I have no desire to diminish, sneer at, or mock anyone’s life story. Every story we tell in Barkerville involves real human beings who lived real lives. If you ever want to engage an interpreter in a thoughtful conversation about prostitution, please do… but try to be the kind of visitor who understands that history is an ongoing conversation, and that every person who lived before us deserves to have their humanity noted and appreciated. In doing so, you give attention and purpose to someone who mattered – someone who is part of the story of us.
– Danette Bee
The above one-panel cartoon (originally published July 25, 2015) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the eighth 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 some of the quirkier advantages to living, working, and playing in the Cariboo Goldfields. We hope you enjoy!
I can’t remember every aspect of every single day I have spent working in Barkerville. After all these years most of it is a pleasant blur of images and sounds. But I do remember July 17th, 2000.
I remember it vividly.
On the morning of July 17th, 2000 I went to the Visitors’ Reception Centre in Barkerville as I had done many days before and as I have done many days since, to start the morning town tour. As I went inside the building to give a little shout to the gathering guests to alert them that the tour was about to begin, I noticed one of my managers was standing inside. He was looking at me with a very serious expression. He walked right over to me, put his arm gently but firmly around my shoulders, and guided me outside.
“I wanted to tell you this now, before you hear it from someone else. Sara died early this morning.”
“Thank you,” was all I could think of to say. I understood why he told me when he did. Even though it was right before a performance, he knew this was what I would want. The rumour mill is impressive in Barkerville, and he knew I would want to hear it first, and to hear it from him, before the information made it through town.
I walked out of the VRC in a daze, and somehow managed to dig deep and get on with the show. When the tour ended I asked the interpreter with whom I had completed the tour to come with me to a quiet spot just off the main street, in a small grove of trees, where I told him about Sara. We held each other, wept, gathered ourselves, and walked back downtown to where the rest of our cast was waiting for us.
Seven years prior I was hired by Eureka Theatre Company as Street Interpreter. The company was run by a close knit, lovely family. Sara was the daughter of two of the producers. She was nineteen years old when I first met her, and she worked in the Theatre Royal box office. The very next season Sara, a gifted actor, came into the fold as a “streeter” herself.
I worked with Sara on the streets of Barkerville for four years, and it was a great pleasure to watch her grow and flourish as an interpreter. I was one of her directors, and I was often a bit hard on her (as I can be with all those in whom I see fierce, raw talent). She met my demands with steely professionalism, wit and a sharp desire to prove herself. She was the bosses’ kid. She knew she had to be great, and she was.
Sara played the role of a hurdy gurdy dancing girl named Kate Hartley. We called her “Too Tall Kate,” as she cut a memorable figure with her stature, grace and impressive, constantly swishing hoop skirt. She and my dear friend Brad (who for eleven years played miner Jack Beeman on the street) were cast as love interests in Barkerville, and they were in love in real life as well.
In 1997 Sara was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. In 1998 Sara and Brad were married in a beautiful autumn ceremony in Vancouver. Half of the communities of Barkerville and Wells were there. We danced the night away. It was fantastic.
The Barkerville season of 2000 began with us not knowing if Sara would make it through the summer. Our company had contingency plans in place in case Sara and Brad, as well as Sara’s parents and her sister (who also worked in town) had to suddenly leave the Cariboo. We hoped we would not have to use those contingencies… but our hopes were thwarted.
Early in July, as Sara’s condition worsened, it became clear that we would need to pull together as a company so the family could head down to Vancouver to do the unthinkable: see Sara through to the end of her life.
During Sara’s final months a documentary was made about her, and that, combined with her many years in Barkerville, means that I still get asked about her and her family by visitors on a regular basis.
I won’t go into great detail here, but I will say that all of the family is doing well. They are living rich, meaningful lives. Sara’s powerhouse of a mother, my friend Pat, has become a vibrant force advocating for young adults with cancer. She and the rest of her family have made Sara’s legacy count.
So this year, as I head out on to the street on July 17th, I will do what I always do. I will remember my friend, Too Tall Kate. As the Theatre Royal bell rings I will remember how she used to swish her hoop skirt along with the chimes so that she herself looked like a big ringing bell.
Barkerville has given so much to me over the years, and its greatest gift has been friendship. Sara was my friend. I remember her and I miss her.
– Danette Boucher
The above one-panel cartoon (originally published July 18, 2015) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the seventh 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 some of the beautiful advantages to living, working, and playing in the Cariboo Goldfields. We hope you enjoy!
In my life away from Barkerville I am very plugged in. I love social media. I live in Wells, a remote community with no cell phone service, so I rely on the internet to keep me connected. My computer is my lifeline to my friends and family far away. In my leisure time my iPad is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of my arm. I am always checking my Facebook, email, Instagram, Twitter or just generally flipping around, looking at my favourite websites.
And then I go to work.
Although there is limited access to Wi-Fi in Barkerville, once you are past the gates, roaming the streets and exploring buildings, you are basically tech free. When I cross through that fence in the mornings, I lose all access to the internet, and I love it. For at least nine hours a day I live in a simpler time when messages were passed from mouth to ear or written down and delivered by hand. While I am working, while I am in a 19th-century costume, I am not only representing an age when computers did not yet rule our lives, I am also living that reality.
It has been a very hot week in the Cariboo. In fact, all of British Columbia is experiencing near drought conditions. When it gets hot and dry like this, the interpreters in Barkerville need to take care. During our sixty-five minute town tours, for example, coworkers make sure to plant cups of water along our route so we stay as hydrated as possible while projecting our voices through the dust, and through the other particulates that hang in the air as a by-product of summer forest fires. When we feel woozy as a result of expending performance-level energy while wearing hot, multi-layered costumes, we listen to our bodies and do our best to sit down in sheltered spots to regroup before our next scheduled scene or program. A few times this week I have slipped into some of the more secluded corners of our main street to rest and take some shade.
Yesterday I had a break between performances so I stole over to a charming wrought iron bench that is nestled in a grassy nook behind the boardwalk just in front of the King House Bed and Breakfast. The little triangle of grass upon which the bench sits is right underneath a giant cottonwood tree. As I sat, I allowed myself to notice the world around me.
Little fluff-covered twigs decorated the ground all around the hems of my hoop skirt, reminding me of the magical cottonwood “snow” that swirled through the air last week. The startling, motor-like sound of a hummingbird whirred past my ears and made me jump a little, but I was glad the tiny creature had alerted me to its presence. I watched it methodically drink nectar from each flower on the hanging planters dangling from a nearby porch.
Mr. Dodds, our new schoolmaster, rang his school bell and with commanding yet kind skill and expert diligence arranged his giggling “students” into parallel lines and instructed them on appropriate Victorian etiquette before marching them inside his schoolhouse and leaving the street quiet once again.
A ground squirrel popped out from under the King House, surveyed me, quickly determined that I was not a tourist bearing sugary crumbs, and dismissed me for a more promising mark.
I gazed under a nearby boardwalk and noticed a rare sprig of wild columbine preening like a diva amidst crowds of ubiquitous buttercups and forget-me-nots. I breathed in the summer Barkerville air – a scented mixture of dust, forge smoke, delicious food, horses, flowers and grasses. I took one final look around, and then it was time to head uptown for my next scheduled street scene.
As I reluctantly stood and prepared to leave my cottonwood oasis, it occurred to me that had I not been in costume and character at that moment, had I not been in a technology free zone, I might have missed all of that noticing. In another reality, I would have sat on that same bench and immediate pulled my phone out of my bag to check messages. Instead of simply watching that hummingbird, I would have been scrambling to take a photo of it and quickly post online.
I love electronics and I freely admit to being a screen addict, but I am also so grateful for my screen-free, internet-free Barkerville days. While I am in Barkerville, instant communication and access to cyberspace comes second to connecting face to face with other human beings, and the simple luxury of sitting still and watching the gentle flow of real life all around me.
– Danette Boucher
The above one-panel cartoon (originally published July 11, 2015) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the sixth 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 some of the quirkier advantages to living, working, and playing in the Cariboo Goldfields. We hope you enjoy!
Dominion Day always reminds me of how important Barkerville has been, and continues to be, in the story of my life. Twenty-two years ago – on July 1st, 1993 – I participated in my first Dominion Day celebration in Barkerville as Miss Florence Wilson. It was all very new and exciting for me, and as the old-fashioned games day commenced I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be doing. Thankfully, veteran interpreters guided me and the other rookies through an impressive array of historically appropriate games and activities like the hammer toss, ladies egg and spoon race, broad jump, funny face contest, etc., etc.
When time came for the egg toss challenge, a sweet and very polite young man approached me and asked if I would be his partner. The egg toss requires a line-up of adults and a line-up of children to throw eggs to each other, back and forth, over gradually increasing distances. Once an egg breaks, the adult/child pair that was throwing it is disqualified.
The boy who’d asked to team up with me was not quite a stranger. I’d seen him before. He was a Barkerville kid, and that summer he was working as the town paperboy, selling copies of the Cariboo Sentinel from a canvas satchel he carried around all day. He introduced himself as Brad.
Brad and I joined the long line of egg-tossers. The row of participants was impressive: it stretched right across the main street of town, from one side of a grassy clearing to the opposite boardwalk. As we began, I tossed the egg a couple of feet through the air to Brad, and he caught it. We each then took a step backwards, and he threw the egg back to me. The whole line of players kept doing this, over and over, taking another step backwards each time. The game grew more and more difficult as the distance between us increased. The teams around us were dropping like flies. Eggs smashed into the ground or exploded in people’s hands and on their faces, and the number of participants decreased with each turn.
Now, I freely admit that Brad and I were not very good at the egg toss. In fact, we were just awful at the game… but, for some reason (I suspect divine intervention) our egg just wouldn’t break. Even when one of us missed a catch, that egg would somehow just hit the grass and roll. It was amazing, really.
We started to get really excited as it dawned on us that we might actually win this thing. In the midst of some surprisingly cutthroat competition, Miss Wilson and the paperboy – neither of whom could throw or catch very well – were among the last teams standing. A few field-wide pitches later… we won. Brad and I won the Barkerville Egg Toss of 1993!
I got to know Brad quite well that summer. We called him “Little Brad” in order to differentiate him from a grown-up interpreter who was also called Brad. Little Brad’s family later moved from the area, and I didn’t see him again for years.
Then, one night in the Wells Hotel pub about ten years later, a young man approached my table and asked if I remembered him. It was Little Brad. He was all grown up now, and was back in Wells and Barkerville for a visit.
Little Brad and I have kept in touch via social media over the years since. I now live in Wells full-time, and for a long time he was living in Alberta. About a year ago Brad sent me a message to let me know that he and his wife and two young children were moving to Quesnel, having recently acquired a local business.
And just yesterday I was helping with another Barkerville Dominion Day event – this one the children’s broad jump. I was excited to be there, as my six year old twin daughters were participating for the first time. As the name of each participant was called out, I thought I recognized the name of Little Brad’s daughter. I quickly scanned the crowd and there he was: Little Brad. Not so little anymore.
We smiled to each other and laughed across the sawdust pit as it dawned on us both that twenty-two years after becoming friends over our miraculous egg toss victory, our own children were now part of the same Barkerville Dominion Day tradition.
“Did you ever think you’d see the day?” I called over to Little Brad.
“No, never!” he called back.
One of my favourite things about being a long-time resident of Barkerville is seeing the circles and connections that come from being part of something that matters so much to so many. In the everyday minutiae of coming to work, doing our jobs, and heading home, it can be easy momentarily forget that we are part of a very big story. My story starts in 1862 when Billy Barker hit pay dirt 52 feet below Williams Creek, travels along the curves and edges of subsequent gold rushes, including the hard rock boom of Wells in the 1930s, embraces the plot twist of Barkerville becoming a museum in 1958, and rolls right along to the present day. It’s such a good story, and so many of you are in it.
– Danette Boucher
The above one-panel cartoon (originally published July 4th, 2015) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the fifth 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 some of the quirkier advantages to living, working, and playing in the Cariboo Goldfields. We hope you enjoy!