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Archiving archaeological treasures from Barkerville’s Theatre Royal

Dawn Ainsley is an archaeologist with Barkerville Historic Town and Park

Inside her office at Barkerville Historic Town and Park, Dawn Ainsley was surrounded by brown boxes containing archaeological treasures and oddities unearthed at Theatre Royal.

She encountered the artifacts, some of which were displayed at the Barkerville Hotel on Wednesday, Aug. 17, — the 160th anniversary Billy Barker and his Barker Co. discovered gold on the lower part of Williams Creek — while monitoring excavation work under the Theatre Royal as part of a foundation rebuild last fall.

Inside one of the large boxes were wooden pieces from what is believed to have been the walls of Barker’s original mineshaft.

Others contained various bottles and objects, including a human coprolite, fossilized feces.

“There’s definitely more room for research, especially for myself or someone else who’s very interested in parasitology and would like to learn a little more about the gut health of our early miners,” Ainsley said.

During the excavation, which uncovered multiple refuse piles, a floor layer from the original theatre building, an outhouse and a layer of ash from the 1868 fire, Ainsley thought it was interesting the soil, for the most part, was devoid of worms.

That she said can most likely be pinpointed to the historic tailings which preserved the wood cribbing from the mineshaft.

Read More: Chinese treasures unearthed in salvage at Barkerville Historic Town and Park

According to a news release by Barkerville Historic Town and Park, it was in 1862 when the Barker Co. staked claims 800 feet long below Blackjack Canyon, commencing at the Haegerman Claim downstream to Baldhead camp. While Barker sold off his shares of Barker Co. in 1864, his partners continued working the claims for many years.

The Barker Co. water flume protected Scott and Lipsett’s Saloon during the Great Fire of 1868 that ripped through Barkerville, 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 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.”

The current Theatre Royal was built in the late 1930s and served as a multi-use community hall until 1958, when Barkerville was declared a provincial heritage property.

“For me, I’ve always been about the things in the ground and under the ground,” Ainsley said.

“This is the first project where I really had to bring myself up to the surface and research people, other than just the buildings, because a lot of the people tie in quite nicely with the story. I just expected to monitor them, take all this material out and us do a foundation—I didn’t expect it to go this way which is great; it’s been wonderful.”

Of the 16 boxes containing archaeological treasures uncovered at Theatre Royal, one will serve as a demonstration box for future display and discussion. The remaining will be archived and stored with the hopes of a someday permanent display.

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