Barkerville Historic Town and Park will be sharing some significant archaeological findings on the 160th anniversary of the day Billy Barker and his Barker Co. discovered gold on the lower part of Williams Creek.
From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 17, Barkerville archaeologist Dawn Ainsley will be stationed at the Barkerville Hotel where she will reveal and discuss a variety of artifacts, ephemera, and structural discoveries she encountered while archaeologically monitoring excavation work that was done under the Theatre Royal as part of a foundation rebuild in the Fall of 2021.
“Features that we expected to encounter included the previous Theatre Royal flooded floor levels and possible evidence of the Great Fire of 1868,” Ainsley said in a news release. “What we actually found was so much more.”
A new foundation under the Theatre Royal was necessary to provide added support in the preservation and conservation of the building. The current theatre building was constructed in the late 1930s and served as a multi-use community hall until the British Columbia government turned Barkerville into a Provincial Heritage Park in 1958. The community hall was then taken over for various theatrical productions that recreated historical Theatre Royal performances.
Excavation work began last September and continued through mid-October. The work was done in three stages: mid-section, back section and from the front to the façade. Each section of the building was supported by cribbed timbers and I-beams while material was excavated by smaller equipment. Once each section was excavated, forms were placed under the supporting walls and cement was poured. Each section took approximately two weeks to complete, and the depth of the excavation was eight feet below the surface.
Several unexpected features were encountered during the excavation, which uncovered multiple refuse piles, a floor layer from the original theatre building, an outhouse, a layer of ash from the 1868 fire and the wooden walls of a mineshaft. Pictorial evidence from historical photographs and paintings, as well as written reports from Barkerville’s Cariboo Sentinel Newspaper, suggest the mineshaft was, in fact, part of the Barker Co. claim and may even be the discovery shaft itself.
In 1862 the Barker Co. staked claims 800 feet long below Blackjack Canyon, commencing at the Haegerman Claim downstream to Baldhead camp. Billy Barker sold off his shares of Barker Co. in 1864, but his partners continued working the claims for many years. The Barker Co. water flume protected Scott & Lippsett’s Saloon during the Great Fire of 1868, and the Cariboo Sentinel reported arrangements made with Barker Co. for a new fire hall and Theatre Royal.
As the town of Barkerville was rebuilt, the Williams Creek Fire Brigade partnered with the Cariboo Amateur Dramatic Association to build a two-storey building that housed the fire hall on the main floor and the upper floor for the Theatre Royal. In 1869 it was reported that the removal of Barker’s waterwheel was underway to make room for the new building, and in 1875 a snowslide from the Theatre Royal smashed the roof of the Barker Co. Shaft House. Fred Tregillius later mentioned that the Barker shaft was still open in 1886, and a letter by J.B. Leighton refers to the “original shaft house just back of what is now the fire hall.”
Evidence of the Barker Co. shaft, as well as an assortment of other items and structural components found during the 2021 excavation will be on display and open for discussion on Discovery Day, Aug. 17, at the Barkerville Hotel.
For more information about Barkerville’s ongoing archaeological efforts and programming, or any of Barkerville’s 2022 daily or special events, visit www.barkerville.ca or call 1-888-994-3332.
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