Did you ever wonder who that woman is – the one who plays Queen Victoria in Barkerville every May? Turns out, it’s me. And here’s how that happened:
By 1999 I was well into my routine of living and working in Vancouver in the off-season, and heading to Barkerville for the summers. I began playing with the idea of writing a solo stage show, something that would be easy for me to self-produce, and that I might tour with between my annual Street Interpretation gigs.
After years of working at heritage sites festooned with images of the younger Queen Victoria, I had grown used to visitors pointing at the pictures and saying: “Hey, you kind of look like her.” It’s true, I kind of do. Eventually it dawned on me – why not write a play about Queen Victoria?
In the summer of 1999 I invented a new level of stress for myself by working on the street in Barkerville five days a week, and then spending every evening and day off at the Wells Curling Rink rehearsing what would become my first one-woman show: The Great Love of Queen Victoria.
To my immense relief the show went over well on stages in Victoria and Vancouver, and soon it became a regular part of my life as a performer. In the spring of 2000 a manager at the Wake up Jake, a well known Barkerville eatery, asked if I would consider “appearing” as the Queen at her establishment on Victoria Day. As my show is a scripted play I hadn’t yet considered interpreting Victoria in this way, but hey, I had the costume, so why not?
Being the Queen on stage is one thing, being the Queen and interacting with visitors up close and personal is quite another. I think that first year, with no prior event to establish expectations, most assumed the Royal Visit would be a send up – someone playing “at” being a monarch – silly accent, references to Corgis, heavy on the “we are not amused”.
But I am a historical interpreter by trade, and I only knew one way to take on the task: I would play the Queen as a real person. The result was a delight for me. As long as I took an authentic approach, visitors followed suit.
I was unprepared for how nervous some people would become when it was time for their “audience.” In fact, some patrons grew so apprehensive they refused to come over to my table during the tea. This still happens, thirteen years later. Thankfully, most visitors do come and chat with me, and I love it.
The week of May 20th set a 10 year attendance record for Barkerville, and I had the privilege of once again donning my hoops and petticoats and stepping into my Queen persona.
The Victoria Day Tea at the Wake up Jake has become a tradition at our site. I am always happy the afternoon is well attended by our neighbours from Prince George, Quesnel, Williams Lake, 100 Mile, and all the other surrounding towns that offer such crucial support to Barkerville. It is my honour to headline this event.
And now you know. That queen is me.
– Danette Boucher