[History Town] Another Barkerville dream, come true

History Town 2015 (Boots) by vanstralen

Every summer from 1993 to 2003 I told the story of Billy Barker’s “discovery claim” at least once a day during the Barkerville town tour. It’s a great tale, full of suspense and plot twists and has a really big payoff at the end. It also happens to be true.

In 2014, after an 11 year hiatus, I returned to the streets of Barkerville as an historical interpreter and found that I still love talking about that day in August – 153 years ago – when Barker & Co. uncovered a staggering channel of gold that became British Columbia legend.  And it is even more fun telling this story now, because Billy Barker is right there with me.

Last season an interpreter played Billy Barker full-time for the first time in Barkerville’s history. Although it only seems logical to include him in our interpretive repertoire, there were good reasons why our town’s namesake had not made an official appearance during the museum’s 56-year lifespan. If we were ever going to present Billy Barker on the streets of Barkerville, we would need an actor of some considerable ability – and physical resemblance – to pull it off.

In 2014 we discovered that we’d actually found our man 15 years before: Andrew Hamilton, a seasoned interpreter who has worked in Barkerville since 1999 (playing various other characters) looks the part and is a good enough actor to handle this formidable, iconic role. Andrew’s Billy is on the streets again this year, and having him in Barkerville, meeting and greeting visitors and recounting the Barker & Co. story has been and continues to be an interpretive dream come true.

Then the Timber Kings came to town and cranked it up a notch.

The cast and crew of HGTV’s fascinating and highly entertaining “reality” television program Timber Kings, about a company of master builders and expert log home artisans from Williams Lake, BC, came to Barkerville about ten days ago and with exhilarating agility went to work recreating the original Barker & Co. discovery claim and shaft house.

A lot of work had happened, of course, before the production crew ever arrived on site. Local mining experts, long-time historical interpreters and our visitor experiences and curatorial teams have been working long hours to see this remarkable collaboration come to fruition. The interpreters have also been planning and conceptualizing theatrical programs to utilize this fully interactive exhibit.

Once the Timber Kings were on site and construction was underway we had a bit of a challenge integrating the buzz of saws and the pounding of nails as a soundscape for our tours… but it was exciting, too. Barkerville was alive with a symphony of men at work, just as it would have been throughout the original gold rush years.

We all had a fantastic time sneaking up the street between tours and presentations to witness the remarkable speed with which the craftsmen worked. The claim’s mineshaft rapidly took shape, followed by the post and beam structure that would ultimately protect it. About once an hour I stole over to the construction zone and checked on their progress. Each time I did I gasped at the amount of work that had been completed since my previous visit. These guys work hard, and they work fast.

The whole thing was captured on film, so when HGTV officially announces season three of Timber Kings be sure to watch for the Barkerville episode. It should air sometime next spring. In the meantime, come to Barkerville and see the Barker & Co. discovery claim for yourself. Since the Timber Kings left town our own Heritage Conservation workers and curatorial team have completed the shaft house and are putting the finishing touches on the display.

Barkerville was borne out of a dream of riches, but it was built by intense and rapid physical labour. It has been so wonderful to see the new Barker & Co. claim in the midst of and in the aftermath of construction. The whole site has been eagerly watching and participating in this unique and remarkable series of events. It really is another Barkerville dream, come true.

– Danette Boucher

The above one-panel cartoon (originally published June 20, 2015) by Dirk Van Stralen, with accompanying editorial by Danette Boucher, is the third 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!