BEYOND THE HEADLINES:The first Dominion Day

Barkerville citizens with roots back east were overwhelmed when news finally brought word of a new country, Canada, in 1867

Long having to contend with the boisterous festivities of their American friends every July 4, Barkerville citizens with roots back east were overwhelmed when news finally brought word of a new country, Canada, in 1867.

“They too had an independent country to celebrate and they were fully aware of the implications of the new dominion’s motto: From Sea to Sea,” wrote Ken Mather, a Spallumcheen author and historian, in an article on the Cariboo gold town in then colonial B.C.

“It only remained for them to demonstrate to their friends at home the willingness for joining their new home with their old. And one of the ways of demonstrating their fervor was through the tried and true method of celebrating. The results were guaranteed to make the wildest American on the creek stand up and take notice.”

That pent-up enthusiasm to commemorate the new nation finally transpired one minute after midnight July 1, 1868.

“The good people of Barkerville were startled out of their sleep by the thunderous roar of a 21 gun salute. Only in the absence of cannon the Canadians used the traditional anvil chorus, consisting of putting one anvil on top of another and sandwiching between a charge of black powder,” wrote Mather.

“When touched off, the resulting sound was deafening and did full credit to equalling the roar of the cannon.”

Later that day, there were horse races, a greasy pole climb and a performance at Theatre Royal and a grand ball at Mrs. Tracey’s boarding house. The evening wrapped up with 1,000 people taking in a blazing fireworks display.

“Thus the first Dominion Day celebration in B.C., and perhaps in North America, passed into memory not without a few large heads — no doubt a result of the anvil chorus,” said Mather.

“The Americans on Williams Creek begrudgingly admitted that the Canadians had organized a real rip-snorter but they were quick to point out that this fledgling dominion had a long way to go before it equalled their glorious country to the south. Why the new country didn’t even have a flag.

“And to further point this fact out, they placed Old Glory on top of a 94-foot-high flagpole in front of Sterling’s Saloon, better known as the Eldorado Billiard and Dancing Saloon and as American an institution as six-guns and Bowie knives.”

But the Canadians weren’t willing to be out-done and the next Dominion Day would be one to remember.

“Plans were begun in secret and the local artist William W. Hill designed and painted a distinctly Canadian flag consisting of a beaver surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves on a white ground in the middle of the British ensign,” wrote Mather.

“Under cover of night on June 30, 1869, the flag was placed on a pole and erected in Barkerville across from Sterling’s Saloon. The people of Barkerville awoke on July 1 to view, not without some delight, the ‘new’ Canadian flag flittering proudly atop a flag pole 115 feet high, looking down on the American flag below.”

Ultimately, when questions arose about the future of the colony of B.C., Barkerville’s Dr. Robert William Weir Carrall joined the chorus  of those calling for Canada to expand to the Pacific coast. Carrall was among those who negotiated B.C.’s entry into confederation in 1871.

Carrall later went on to be a senator and he introduced legislation that officially recognized July 1 as a national holiday.

“The bill was passed and finally some 11 years after the fact, the rest of Canada joined Barkerville in celebrating this great occasion,” said Mather.

Happy Canada Day everyone.