Barkerville needs more gold from the Crown purse to cover costs, says heritage site's CEO

·2 min read
While tourists look on, Indigenous interpreter Mike Retasket, centre in red scarf, takes part in a street skit about B.C. history along with other costumed interpreters at Barkerville Historic Town and Park in B.C.'s central Interior.  (Betsy Trumpener/CBC  - image credit)
While tourists look on, Indigenous interpreter Mike Retasket, centre in red scarf, takes part in a street skit about B.C. history along with other costumed interpreters at Barkerville Historic Town and Park in B.C.'s central Interior. (Betsy Trumpener/CBC - image credit)

People were once lured to Barkerville, B.C., by the promise of riches and now operators of the historic gold rush site turned tourist attraction say they need more money to keep drawing visitors.

Managers from Barkerville and five other heritage sites penned a letter to B.C.'s Minister of Lands, Forests, Natural Resources Katrine Conroy asking the government to give the Heritage Branch more resources to get the sites through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Point Ellice House Museum and Gardens and Carr House in Victoria, Kilby Historic Site in Harrison Mills, Historic Hat Creek Ranch near Cache Creek and Yale Historic Site in the Fraser Canyon are all represented in letter.

Kate Cox, chief executive officer with Barkerville, said historic sites often have trouble generating enough revenue to keep up with expenses, even when there aren't pandemic-related restrictions to contend with.

"A general problem for all heritage sites is that we [have] aging buildings, a lot of wood structures, significant weather issues that we have to deal with," she told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

"We have these considerable costs, but it's very difficult for us to lock in a growing sustainable funding [source] in order to augment those costs."

Finding ways to deal with costs means historic sites have to get creative with staffing and make tough decisions about what maintenance work gets done at the site. One of the 125 historic buildings at Barkerville is currently sliding off its foundation and work on that won't be possible until this fall at the earliest — at a cost upwards of $100,000.

"That is a considerable project cost that would be in addition to the operations funding that we need in order to operate every day," Cox said.

Barkerville Historic Town & Park is located on the western edge of the Cariboo Mountains, about 80 kilometres east of Quesnel, B.C.
Barkerville Historic Town & Park is located on the western edge of the Cariboo Mountains, about 80 kilometres east of Quesnel, B.C.(Facebook/Barkerville Historic Town & Park)

News of easing restrictions in coming weeks and months has taken some of the pressure off, but Cox said Barkerville plans to stick to their plan of opening June 26, with physical distancing and safe programming in place.

"I am not anticipating being able to bring large groups here this year without putting more strain on the site, more strain on staff," she said.

"Our goal is to make sure that every visitor, from individuals to small groups, have an intimate and yet exciting experience. And we want to be careful how we do that this year. So safety first and we want to make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to enjoy."

To hear Kate Cox's interview on CBC's Daybreak North, tap here: