Whistle Pigs and Talking Toilets

History Town (Better Guide) by vanstralen

When your job is pretending to be someone you are not in a time other than your own, some pretty funny stuff can happen. Everyone who has ever worked in Barkerville has a few good stories about unusual experiences on site. Here are a couple of my own:

For many years now, Barkerville has been home to some seriously cute, squeaky, furry little rodents called “Columbia ground squirrels.” For some reason, over the decades, everyone on site refers to these creatures as “whistle pigs.” Whistle pigs are notoriously great at upstaging interpreters.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I always spent the month of May conducting two solo town tours per day. One morning I started a tour with a group that included a thirty-something married couple. I wasn’t far into the show when I noticed my audience was looking past me, rather than at me. They all had “awwwww” expressions on their faces. I looked behind me and, sure enough, there was an adorable whistle pig up on its hind legs, only a few feet away, stealing my thunder.

Any veteran performer will tell you that the only way to get rid of a distraction is to acknowledge it. I decided to use some well-worn whistle pig material: “That is a Columbia ground squirrel,” I said. “But here in Barkerville we call them whistle pigs because when they are scared they sit up and whistle… and they eat like pigs.”

The female half of the aforementioned couple responded enthusiastically: “Just like Mormons!”

What the…?!

It normally takes a lot to render me speechless, but I was dumbstruck. After a few silent seconds wherein I and the rest of the group stared at the woman in bewilderment, I said: “Um… what?”

“Just like Mormons,” she reiterated.

At this point her exasperated husband shook his head and hissed: “Marmots! Not Mormons, marmots!”

“Oh, right,” she said.

Another time I was enjoying a stroll down Barkerville’s main street with an interpreter who played Thomas Patullo, a very high status historical character. As we neared St. Saviour’s church “Mr. Patullo” excused himself to use a nearby outhouse. I carried on, and immediately passed a small group of tourists. I watched as one of these visitors, an older gentleman, broke away from the group and headed toward the very outhouse that Mr. Patullo had only just entered. The man walked over to the small wooden structure and pulled on the door handle, which was, of course, locked. Oddly, the man kept tugging insistently on the door. From inside the outhouse Mr. Patullo said courteously: “It’s occupied!”

I watched the man’s face register confusion at first, then delight. He gestured enthusiastically to the rest of his party to come over to him. He was utterly thrilled.

“It talks!” he said.

The rest of the group came over and, inexplicably, began banging on the door. “It’s occupied,” Mr. Patullo repeated. His voice sounded slightly less jovial. The entire group dissolved into appreciative giggles, and then started gesturing to other passersby, saying things like: “If you knock on the door, it talks to you!”

A crowd gathered. For some reason the whole bunch of them seemed to be under the impression that Barkerville had installed a gag talking outhouse. I dashed over and tried to help, explaining “it’s not a joke, it is a real outhouse, and there is really someone in there,” but apparently this suggested I was “in on it.” The mob laughed merrily at my pleas and banged even harder on the outhouse door.

“I’m in here,” Mr. Patullo cried. His voice had taken on a slight edge of panic.

Eventually the group dispersed. Once the people left, poor Mr. Patullo emerged from his wooden prison and dashed off behind some other buildings to hide. I followed him, and we doubled over with our own laughter for quite some time. As far as we know, there is still a small group of people out there who believe they actually had a conversation with an outhouse in Barkerville, BC.

– Danette Boucher

The above one-panel cartoon (originally published September 25th, 2013) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the nineteenth of twenty weekly entries that were 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!