Heritage site student staffers mix history with work

Travellers along Highway 97 like to stop at the 108 Heritage Site to step back in time

Michal Albrecht keeps the museum tidy and conducts tours for visitors.

Michal Albrecht keeps the museum tidy and conducts tours for visitors.

When Benjamin Howard McNeil built his rambling roadhouse at 105 Mile in 1905, little did he know that in the future it would become the focal point of the 108 Heritage Site.

After 1912, the roadhouse ceased to serve travellers on the Cariboo Wagon Road and became the family home. Today, the old house operates as the 105 Mile Ranch Museum, serving travellers as a porthole to the past.

This summer, Michal Albrecht, a student at Thompson Rivers University who grew up in the South Cariboo and graduated from Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School (PSO) in 2010, greets visitors to the museum. She is pursuing a degree in psychology, but doesn’t mind mixing in a little history.

Dressed in period clothing, she guides visitors through the museum house and explains the story of the building and the many artifacts that fill it.

“Tourists are interested in everything about the site and local people seem to come here to revisit their childhood,” she says.

One of her favourite items is a men’s swimming outfit, with a shirt and shorts, made of pure wool.

She also likes the old Post House outside and the mystery that surrounds it. It was originally part of the 108 Roadhouse, run by Agnus MacVee, where dozens of miners and female employees are said to have gone missing.

Since being relocated across the highway at the heritage site, the building is rumoured to be haunted.

One year, a tourist frantically told the staff he saw someone through the Post House window who appeared to be trapped inside, despite the building being locked.

Another time, a staff member was mopping the floor, complaining to himself about “dirty ghosts” when his bucket went flying across the room.

Chelsea Dunk is another summer employee, and she studies at the University of Northern British Columbia and is also a student of psychology and political science. She is a 2011 PSO grad who is thrilled to be able to come home to work for the summer.

Her job as inventory specialist is to ensure that every one of the several thousand artifacts on the site is clean, in proper order, and placed where it was intended to be. They are all listed in inventory records and Dunk must ensure each one is accounted for.

Having visited Barkerville with her family just about every summer while she was growing up, Dunk already has an ingrained love of pioneer history.

She says some of the items on the 108 site date back to the early 1800s and that much of it is from local families.

“New stuff is always trickling in. People clean out their grandmother’s house and ask if you can use it.”

After hearing stories about the Post House, Dunk was nervous about having to clean up and do inventory work in that building. She was relieved to hear that she didn’t have to.

“I don’t believe in ghosts, but I don’t want to run into anything either.”

Connor Sortome, who graduated from PSO in 2011, is also on staff this summer. He’ll be heading off to study computer science at British Columbia Institute of Technology in the fall, but this summer, he’ll be maintaining the heritage site grounds. With several acres of grass to keep under control, he expects to spend a lot of time behind a lawn mower.

“I like being outside. There’s lots to do, always,” he says, adding painting and cleaning are also on his list of chores.

All three students will work at the site until Labour Day, when it closes for the season. Currently, the hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday.