Like hundreds of others, my sister Susan and I were evacuated during the fire season of 2017. We had been staying in Wells, B.C. for a few days, and on Saturday 8th July we left for home in Williams Lake as Susan was due to return to England that coming Tuesday. However, the road south was closed from McAllister due to the Wildfires. We were directed to go to Quesnel or Prince George where accommodation would be found for us, but instead we chose to return to the Hubs Motel in Wells, where we had been staying. We remained there for the duration of the evacuation period.
Each day, for the next three weeks we drove the few kilometres to Barkerville where we found plenty to occupy us during those anxious days. Over the next three weeks we became acquainted with the various street musicians, actors, front desk staff and those working in the stores, as well as the theatre entertainers. We were spoiled by everyone! The people at the C. Strouss store refused to let me pay for my morning coffee, and the staff, business people and performers bought us supper on several occasions, and at other times an un-expected glass of wine would be placed before us. We seldom discovered the identity of the individuals responsible for these generous acts, just that the bill had been taken care of. On more than one occasion we were ushered into the theatre free of charge, and the couple who ran the House Hotel Saloon, offered us the use of their house in Quesnel if we had to leave Wells for any reason. The owners of the Hubs Motel supported us to the point of even picking up our medication in Quesnel, and we were invited to afternoon tea and a tour of the historic house, by the lady who ran one of the Bed and Breakfast in Barkerville, and the blacksmith presented us with pieces of artwork we had watched him create one afternoon in the forge.
Although Barkerville was not as crowded and the stores not as busy as usual, visitors still walked the main street, taking in the historical enactments and musical entertainment offered on and off all day. Horse-drawn wagon rides to the Richfield Courthouse to watch re-enactments of long ago criminal cases, was popular as were the stagecoach drives around the old town. Guided walks and talks through the village and nearby cemetery were on offer every day, and services were held regularly in St. Saviour’s Church. The number of visitors were obviously lower than usual, but even so, no matter the size of the crowd, the daily street entertainment was performed and received with enthusiasm and eager participation.
Susan and I were invited to help advertise the fact that in spite of the fires, the historical town of Barkerville was open for business as usual. We appeared on their website as well as on the radio, although we were listed as being from Clinton instead of Williams Lake on the latter!
On our last evacuation day we dressed in period costume – courtesy of L.A. Blanc Photography Gallery – and enjoyed parading up and down the main street in long frocks, hats decorated with flowers and feathers, and old fashioned boots. As we watched the final performance of the afternoon show on that last day, we were taken from the audience to join the performers in singing the “Rattling Bog” – an action song that the musicians performed every evening before the entertainment ended for the day. It had taken us the three weeks to learn the whole thing! At the end of the show we were presented with a certificate of ‘Honorary Citizenship’, and adopted into the Barkerville “family”.
In so many ways we were sorry to leave. The kindness shown to us had often reduced us to tears – and that last honour was no exception! In spite of the trauma of those weeks of evacuation, the people of this caring community had made our stay a pleasant and memorable one.
On returning to Williams Lake I found my home unscarred, and a garden that had bravely carried on without me, due to a kindly friend and neighbour. Thanks to the cheerful help of Always Travel, my sister was able to fly home the next day – three weeks later than originally planned. I was one of the fortunate ones who survived the Wildfires of 2017 with my home in tact, and the added bonus of many friendships made amongst the performers and community of Barkerville and Wells.