If you’ve taken a town tour at Barkerville Historic Town and Park, you may have had Miss Florence Wilson as your tour guide.
Wilson came to Barkerville from England around 1860 and became a prominent member of the community, particularly in the arts.
Today, during the tours, actress Danette Boucher portrays Wilson and shares interesting stories, facts and information about the town and the Cariboo Gold Rush.
Now the tables are being turned, and Wilson’s story is the one being shared.
Wilson’s life piqued the interest of Richard Wright and Amy Newman, and a special event next week in Barkerville will share some of the interesting information they found out about her when they premiere their film Enigma — The Florence Wilson Story, which is part of their Bonepicker film series.
Wright and Newman have been operating the Theatre Royal in Barkerville for more than a decade as the Newman and Wright Theatre Company, and they have also begun producing and filming Bonepicker — Gold Rush Backstories, short films that tell the stories of the men and women who made the Cariboo Gold Rush their lives.
Wright and Newman will share Wilson’s story Wednesday, Sept. 11 at the Theatre Royal in Barkerville during a special evening of film and and discussion. The evening starts at 7 p.m., and admission is by donation.
Wright says there were many reasons he and Newman wanted to look into Wilson’s life.
“One of the reasons is we thought she was a single woman in Barkerville, which was unusual, plus she was one of the most important people in the artistic community in Barkerville,” he said.
“She started the library as far as we know or was certainly one of two people to start the library, she ran a saloon, she was active in the Theatre Royal, she was an actor, and she was one of the people who started the Cariboo Amateur Dramatic Association and built the Theatre Royal. So she was an important person in Barkerville.”
Wright says Wilson has been on the radar of a number of people who have worked in Barkerville for many years, and as they learned more about her, they found a lot of unanswered questions about her life.
In the event description for the Sept. 11 presentation, Wilson is described as “Barkerville’s enigma.”
Wright says that is because they knew almost nothing about her until the last couple of years.
“We knew that she existed, we knew she came from England because she came on a bride ship, so we assumed she came from London, and then she disappeared, and I guess that was the main thing — in 1875, she left Barkerville and completely disappeared and we could not find her anywhere,” he said.
“The other thing was that in 1864, she’d been here, she’d been established, and she went to Idaho for approximately a year and then came back, and nobody knew why or where she had gone in Idaho. It was assumed that she had followed the gold rushes in Idaho, but we didn’t know for sure. So there were all these questions about her, and it was important to those of us who are interested in Barkerville history and people.
“She was involved heavily in the culture of the town and yet there were these questions about her — where did she come from? Why did she leave in 1864? Why did she disappear in 1875?”
Gradually, more people have become interested in Wilson, and Wright and Newman have become connected with two more researchers in the last four years, which helped put the pieces of Wilson’s life together.
“Through luck and happenstance, we’ve managed to put more or less her whole story together, and it’s really only been possible because of the Internet,” said Wright.
“It would have been very unlikely we would have found this complete story unless different generations had gotten involved, because it just takes so long to do this kind of research if you don’t have the Internet. The two main researchers that have come on board in the last couple of years came on board because of a blog that I wrote, and they happened to be searching for Florence and found the blog online.”
The first person who saw Wright’s blog turned out to be the great-great-great-great niece of Wilson. Dr. Judith Booth lives in Wentworth Falls, Australia, and her upcoming visit to the Cariboo to see Barkerville Historic Town and Park is actually the reason why they are putting together this whole evening, as Booth will speak about her relative and be part of a discussion following the film’s premiere, explained Wright.
“Judith and I have been working on this for about four years, trading information,” said Wright.
“It’s a little bit more complex because she’s actually related to Florence through Florence’s half-brother, who was transported to Australia for stealing a top hat.”
Last year, another researcher in England came across Wright’s blog, contacted him and helped stitch together more pieces of Wilson’s story.
“Eventually, we discovered that she had left Barkerville and gone to California,” said Wright.
Newman and Wright have been making the film about Wilson for their Bonepicker series for the last four years, filming in England, Idaho and California.
During the Sept. 11 event, Newman and Wright will introduce Booth, Booth will speak about Wilson, and then they will show the Bonepicker film. Newman will also present a couple of songs that Wilson’s mother wrote, which they only found recently. Wright says she had been commissioned to write music for Queen Victoria’s birthday, just before she became queen.
The event will conclude with a panel discussion with Booth, Newman, Wright and Boucher.
“I don’t want to give too much away obviously, but there’s some pretty interesting stuff that’s come out of Florence and other people in the town that she was associated with,” said Wright.
“So it’s not just about Florence — it’s also becoming a broader story about I guess you’d call it the arts in Barkerville and how influential she was in the theatre and the arts in Barkerville.”