Couples looking to strike gold in matrimony will have the chance to hit it rich this summer at Barkerville Historic Town and Park.
While COVID-19 restrictions have forced the national heritage site and its in-character, Gold Rush, period-specific townsfolk to close their doors to on-site tourists for the time being, small, micro-weddings are still on the table.
A popular spring and summer wedding destination — previously booked wedding plans have also been disrupted. Barkerville, however, has been given the go-ahead to host micro-wedding ceremonies with up to 10 people while, at the same time, broadcasting the event live online for family and friends who are unable to attend.
Jillian Merrick, the preservation and presentation manager for the Barkerville Historic Town and Park, said traditionally anywhere from five to 10 weddings are booked at the site each summer.
“With the way COVID-19 has changed a lot of things for us, and everyone else, we’ve really ramped up and invested $25,000 into equipment including better quality cameras and sound equipment, to be able to do live, online broadcasts for virtual guests,” Merrick said.
“And with that public service we decided another thing that made the most sense was weddings and being able to broadcast and provide a quality program.”
Limiting the number to 10 allows the micro-weddings to adhere to current health recommendations set out by the Province, and suits the space they have available, Merrick said.
For wedding locations, several options are available.
“We have St. Saviour’s Church, which is our most popular,” she said. “It’s still owned by the Anglican Church so they’ve partnered with us and they can provide their minister and we can provide the tech for the broadcast … anywhere else in Barkerville the bride and the groom would have to secure their own marriage commissioners, but we have places like the Theatre Royal or the Methodist Church. Depending on the size of the group there are a few different options.”
While admittedly not under ideal circumstances, Merrick said since upgrading its technology to offer live broadcasts from Barkerville during the pandemic, the technology was now available to also offer the wedding mico-ceremonies.
“We’ve had a few people inquiring already [about weddings],” she said.
“We know this fits within the current health recommendations and is something, barring extreme misfortune, we can continue to offer. This is just an option we knew we could do. It might work for people, it might not. But we’re trying to give the public something that’s reasonable to offer during this time.”
She said acquiring the new equipment has led to further understanding of virtual broadcasting in terms of the knowledge required to operate the video and sound equipment to provide a quality broadcast.
As of May 19, Barkerville Historic Town and Park and the Cottonwood House Historic Site began to broadcast live, interactive heritage experiences for school children and adult learners via a mixture of web-based platforms as a means of connecting online visitors with the significant heritage resources of both locations while staff maintain safe social distances.
Virtual field trips are being offered until June 12 and have been a massive hit with school children so far, she said.
“It’s been really great,” Merrick said. “Since we started we’ve run over 72 virtual field trips, so that’s 1,500 students, and all of our field trip sessions were booked up so we had to add an extra week.”
Virtual shows for the public are being offered on weekends until June 7, with tickets available on the Barkerville Historic Town and Park website at $8 per computer screen to online visitors.
“They are much like the presentations you’d come to expect when you’re on the other side of the computer,” she said. “People can ask questions, the performers engage with the audience. It’s all live, not recorded and participated in through Zoom.”
Shows include a town tour, Billy Barker’s story, Theatre Royal, Original People’s perspective broadcast from Soda Creek , the amazing tales from the Gold Rush Trail and the Knight vs. Pierce virtual courthouse reenactment.
Barkerville has a streetscape of more than 125 heritage buildings, displays, satellite museums, restaurants, shops and accommodations and is considered the largest living-history museum in western North America. It was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1924 and a Provincial Heritage Property in 1958.
Cottonwood House was built in the 1860s as a road house along the Cariboo Wagon Road, and it became a designated provincial historic site in 1963. Much of the site was closed in 2019, as it received many capital upgrades.
Merrick noted due to the novel coronavirus pandemic they have been able to maintain all of its performers and workers who are able to be at the site.
“Some who are seasonal, they don’t live in the area, so it’s been a challenge this year to get them back,” she said.
“Barkerville employs about 150 on site, and we have about half of that working right now but, especially for the performers who work in the theatre sector, it’s been really great to be able to continue to provide employment for them and the response from the public has been great. We’re just happy the program has been a success so far.”