There are now over 15 Theatre Royals in the British Isles, and a few more scattered around the globe in what was once the British Empire.
Theatre Royals sprang up in the goldfields of Australia in the 1850s and when gold rushes brought thousands to the new colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia in the 1860s the formation of Theatre Royals in Victoria and Barkerville were only a few years after the initial strikes of gold. Miners wanted, in fact, needed and demanded, entertainment.
Barkerville's Theatre Royal itself was built in 1868, soon after the fire that wiped out most of the town. The Cariboo Amateur Dramatic Association had had its beginning in about 1865 when folks like James Anderson, John Bowron, Emily Pemberthy, Mrs. Catherine Parker, Joseph Hough, J.S. Thompson and Florence Wilson formed a group to present music and drama to the townsfolk.
They originally used a saloon but when that burned down in the September 1868 conflagration they embarked on the ambitious task of building a theatre for Williams Creek.
They partnered with the newly formed Williams Creek Fire Brigade and erected a two-storey building where the theatre was on the top floor and the fire brigade the bottom.
This worked out well for a few years, but Barkerville had an unusual problem. Spring freshets often over-flowed Williams Creek and the bulkhead and brought water and gravel washing down main street. The gravel gradually raised the street level and building and boardwalks had to be jacked up to keep ahead of the rising valley floor.
It seems this was not done with the fire hall and by 1876 the building was half buried. Joe St. Laurent was hired to cut the building in half, put in new foundations and a stairway to the second floor.
This building was used until 1934 when ironically it was condemned by the fire marshall and demolished. The theatre was rebuilt in 1937 as a community hall. During recent years it was again renovated and a new façade added to resemble the original fire-hall theatre building.
This raising of buildings may seem far fetched but some years ago a pit was dug on one side of the building. At a depth of 10 feet the old foundations were found and immediately below was a layer of ash from the fire of 1868.
Today's Theatre Royal continues a tradition begun in 1666, a tradition of entertainment that Newman & Wright are pleased to continue.