The 2020 season at Barkerville Historic Town and Park was unlike any other in the town’s history, as COVID-19 necessitated many adaptations and changes.
But the Cariboo Gold Rush living museum is looking back with gratitude that it could open at all and keep its staff employed and is looking ahead to fun events planned for Halloween and a busy fall season of virtual school programming.
Barkerville opened in stages, with a 200-person limit each day and pre-ticketed admission during its abbreviated main season. Most shops were open, and historical interpreters were stationed throughout the site, but many of the exhibits were closed because it was too difficult to maintain physical distancing in those spaces. Special events such as Dominion Day and the Cowboy and Drover Jubilee were cancelled, and the Theatre Royal was closed for the season, although it did offer livestream variety show broadcasts. In the spring before the town and park opened to the public, Barkerville did many virtual presentations.
“I think honestly, things went as good as they possibly could have,” said James Douglas, Barkerville’s public programming and global media development lead. “We were limited to 200 people onsite at any given time, so that’s a very different experience than when you come to Barkerville and there are 500 to 600 people here. But as a result, there were barely any days when we didn’t have that 200-person limit met. From that perspective, it was a great success.
“Yes, our attendance was down tremendously over past years just simply because of those protocols and because people were travelling less, but what we found was there were a lot of people from B.C. and specifically the Lower Mainland who had never come up before. So even though we didn’t get a lot of Europeans that we normally get or Americans that we normally get, the percentage of people from the Lower Mainland and the Fraser Valley who were coming was a marked increase. It was a really great way to connect with people in B.C. and also have them go back to their home communities and talk about Barkerville.”
With lower numbers, there were many unique opportunities for visitors this season, noted Douglas.
“You get a lot of one-on-one time with the interpreters, and some really interesting conversations came out of this summer, for sure,” he said. “I definitely want us to get back to full performance mode, but it could have been a totally different thing. Kudos to the Barkerville Heritage Trust and the provincial government for understanding that it was necessary to keep some form of Barkerville going throughout the summer and keeping the people who were here employed. It could have been a disaster for everybody, and it wasn’t because of some really strong support on local, provincial and federal levels, to be perfectly honest. It was a miracle in many ways that we were able to do what we did, and we’re really happy. I think everybody is just feeling very grateful.”
The main season closed Sept. 27, but Barkerville is looking forward to hosting Halloween events Saturday, Oct. 31.
This year’s events will be different due to COVID-19, and there will be capacity limits.
“We can’t do things like our annual haunted house and that kind of thing, so it’s going to be more of a focus on a very traditional trick or treating opportunity for people,” said Douglas. “There will be interpreters in the buildings, so the kids and their families will get an opportunity to get a little bit spooked as they’re going up to the buildings. The delivery will be different because we won’t be physically handing things to people; there will be all sorts of ways they can take a little treat, whether it be candy or a toy. What’s nice is because we will be doing our virtual broadcast season again for the schools in October and November, we’ll have more than a dozen interpreters who are working onsite here already, so it will be characters from Barkerville that everybody knows and loves.”
From 12-2 p.m., Barkerville will host an inclusive Teal Pumpkin trick or treat event, which is new for Barkerville.
The Teal Pumpkin Project is a worldwide movement to create a safer, happier Halloween for all kids by offering non-food treats, such as glow sticks or small toys, and creating a welcoming and non-scary environment for children with autism or other barriers to participation in traditional Halloween. This promotes inclusion for trick-or-treaters with food allergies or other conditions.
Tickets are $20 and include admission to Barkerville for two hours and a dozen trick or treat stations with the town’s historical interpreters. All treats will be non-food items, and the site will be free of vehicles and loud noises. Staff and visitors will follow COVID-19 protocols, and tickets are limited to 150 people at a time.
Barkerville’s traditional trick or treating event on Oct. 31 is available at two time slots — 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Each $20 ticket includes general admission to Barkerville for two hours, a hot dog and beverage and a dozen trick or treat stations with historical interpreters featuring candied apples and other hand-made treats.
Staff and visitors will follow COVID-19 protocols, and tickets will be limited to 150 people at a time.
Barkerville is also preparing to launch its fall live and interactive virtual field trip program for school children Oct. 19, which will continue until early December.
“Because of the overwhelming success of our spring program, where we saw more than 3,500 kids through our virtual field trip program, we’re launching it again,” said Douglas.
The programming will include court trials, Amazing Tales from the Gold Rush Trail, a new program that is a combination of a town tour and blacksmith lesson, Gold From Nova to Nuggets, Barkerville’s Chinese history, a Cariboo Sentinel newspaper program and An Original Peoples’ Perspective broadcast from Mike Retasket and Cheryl Chapman’s property in Deep Creek.
“It will be great,” said Douglas. “We learned a lot through the spring about broadcast and working with the Zoom platform, so we’re looking forward to getting back at it because we know so much more now than we did before.”
For more information or to reserve tickets for Halloween, visit barkerville.ca.