Historic Hat Creek Ranch is a gold nugget waiting to be found.
Built as a stopping house along the Cariboo Trail in 1861 by Donald McLean and his sons, the property had a long and interesting history before the British Columbia Heritage Trust took it over in 1990. Now it is run by a local volunteer board, with financial assistance from the province.
Chris Linton, or “Charlotte Thompson” as she likes to be known, has been the program director at Historic Hat Creek Ranch for the past three years.
“It’s not a museum as much as we are a living history site,” she says. “It’s the commitment to telling the story that keeps me here.”
Linton and the staff have worked hard to build a program and a reputation of authenticity. It seems to be working. Linton says the Ranch is one of the few historic sites in BC whose attendance is growing.
“Visitors often have the wrong impression of how life was in this area,” she says. “We’re not the wild west, but we’re not the mild west either.”
Their visitors include “anyone and everyone,” she says. They are passing through on their way to somewhere else or they arrive on a tour bus.
“They’re looking for an understanding of BC Gold Rush history,” says Linton.
During the summer, the Ranch offers its visitors two to three daily shows – monologues by staff members, including Linton. “Mining the Miners” describes from a bartender’s point of view the many ways to part a miner from his gold. There is another monologue on Donald McLean, the Hurdy Gurdy girls, and period dress of the local homesteaders (don’t call them pioneers!) with its Victorian influence.
There are also games like lahal and stick and ball in the Shuswap Village (taken from the historical writings of James Teit). And, in the summer as well, there is a weekly re-enactment of a wedding that took place on the grounds in 1883 between John Collins, 30, and Mary Jane Cargile, 17, daughter of the owner at that time.
Linton also visits schools in Kamloops to deliver lessons on the Fur Trade at that time. Last year she gave to Cache Creek students as well.
They have programs for school children at the Ranch, and Brownies and Guides do their badgework on site.
Besides the shows, visitors can wander and pet the goats, feed the chickens and pigs, visit the blacksmith shop and the Shuswap Village and wander through the Roadhouse or take a ride on the Stagecoach.
The Ranch also has a program for volunteers. She says this year they’ve had volunteers from Logan Lake, Kamloops and Ashcroft. They do lot of baking, says Linton, feed the animals, and help with activities like gold panning and the wedding. They wear costumes of the period, but are not expected to answer questions from the tourists about the Ranch. A staff member is normally present for that.
She says they can always use more volunteers. They go through an orientation “and we go from there.”
The Ranch has costumes for volunteers, but Linton says many of the volunteers eventually get their own, and their costume becomes their persona.
Linton has lots of ideas for offerings at the Ranch, like a candlelight series with music of the times and dramatic readings. “There are a lot of things going on here,” she says.
Historic Hat Creek Ranch is hosting a Community Day on Sunday, Sept. 20. Admission is free for the local public.
Linton says there will be fresh baking in the kitchen, stagecoach rides, gold panning opportunities and activities at the Shuswap Village. As well, the chickens and goats will be looking for attention.
Whether you’re a regular visitor to Historic Hat Creek Ranch or have always meant to go but haven’t yet, Community Day is a good reason to get out and stretch your legs at our local heritage site. The Ranch closes to the public at the end of September.