Did Barkerville Invent Canada Day?


History Town (Digital) by vanstralen

Barkerville’s Dominion Day celebrations are so much fun. I can say this with authority, as I have celebrated Canada Day in many places across the nation, and nothing compares. If you haven’t yet made your plans for the 1st of July, pencil us in. Not only can we guarantee a good time, we can offer you this bragging right: you can say you spent Canada Day at the very first place it was ever celebrated. First place. Ever. Seriously.

The first Barkerville Dominion Day happened before British Columbia was even a part of Canada. Just past midnight on July 1st, 1868, on the first anniversary of the confederation of a new nation called the Dominion of Canada, the citizens of our gold rush town started a 21 anvil salute. It seems there were no cannons in the mining camp, but there were plenty of anvils. Gold miners are great improvisers. Black powder charges subbing in for cannon balls were detonated between the anvils for a raucous start to the anniversary celebration. The day was later filled with games, the evening saw a special theatre performance , and a grand ball was held. The finale was a late night display of fireworks. Extensive historical investigation suggests that this was the first recorded celebration of Canada Day, despite the fact that BC didn’t even join the Confederation until three years later – in 1871.

One of my favourite aspects of life in Barkerville is the way we measure history in two ways: pre- and post-1958. Everything that happened before 1958 is part of the history of Barkerville as a town, and everything that happened after 1958 is part of the story of Barkerville as a heritage site. I don’t know exactly when we began historically interpreting the gold rush Dominion Day celebration, but it wasn’t long after the first costumed interpreters appeared onsite in the 1970s. Because we have the detailed reports from the original issues of the Cariboo Sentinel Newspaper, we have been able to base our interpretation on the actual events of that remarkable day in 1868.

In my first season as a Barkerville Street Interpreter in 1993 I was asked to report to a meeting which would inform me of what I would be expected to do on July 1st. So off I went, and was delighted to be assigned the duties of handing out candy sticks, measuring long jumps, helping with sack races and the greasy pole climb. When Dominion Day arrived the veteran interpreters guided us novices through the games – where we watched the cutest little kids, some in period costume, vie for coveted prizes.

By the time I retired as a full-time “Streeter” I had eleven Dominion Days under my belt. I no longer help run the games, the current Street Interpreters handle that. But every season I look forward to watching new generations of children jump, climb and hop to glory. The ladies duke it out in nail pounding and the egg and spoon race, and the men demonstrate feats of strength like the hammer toss and greasy pole climb.

If you have not been to a Barkerville Dominion Day event, change that. If it’s already part of your yearly tradition… see you there! Either way, you will truly be a part of history.

– Danette Boucher

The above one-panel cartoon by Dirk Van Stralen, along with the accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the sixth of twenty weekly entries that will be logged – and subsequently blogged – as part of a 2013 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!