Barkerville, Williams Creek, Cariboo

Editor's note: Peter Burgis has been portraying the infamous justice, Begbie, over a period of some 19 seasons in Barkerville. In his many journeys walking the last mile of the Cariboo Road he has a certain insight on the Judge, his character and what made him tick... This year, seeing as we wrote a feature article on Judge Begbie, we thought it would be appropriate to conduct an interview with the man who is him today.

To begin why don't you tell the readers something about yourself, your background, 'life before Barkerville', that sort of thing.

Ahh, life before Barkerville. Well, since you don't want to hear about the whole sixty-odd years...

Just the highlights.

Well, once my formal education was into the air force for five years, spent a lot of time in Germany and back, some time with the civil service in England and then emigrated to Canada...(pauses while thinking) 1957.

I then spent about 18 years or more working in Vancouver at various professional jobs, basically as a purchasing original profession. Got an opportunity to get into the theatre full-time. I'd been doing a lot of non-professional theatre in Vancouver. Well over thirteen, fourteen years of non-professional theatre down there. Got the chance to get the job here and then another one in the winter in Vancouver. As you well know, you can't live [in Barkerville] unless you've got two jobs.

First job [in Barkerville] was at the Theatre Royal. Franklin Johnson, who [was Begbie before me], gave up the Begbie presentation and when I came to audition [for the Theatre] in '76, they said, 'No we don't want you for the show, we want you to do Begbie instead'. All of a sudden, like topsy, it just grew from there.

All I inherited from Franklin was the script and it was a solo performance then. After that, I gradually changed it into a two-person show and the script, once again like topsy, kept growing. Instead of ten to fifteen minutes, all of a sudden it was twenty-five to thirty and a regular thing. I wear out assistants quite quickly.

So, what would you say attracted you to Barkerville, was it more of an attraction or just happenstance?

Happenstance mostly. I mean, I'm really lucky 'cause I'd been here once...and...I lived next door to Fran Dowie in Richmond (Fran Dowie ran the Theatre Royal in its early years), I knew Fran 'cause he was my next-door neighbour...never thought about working for him at that time but then, as I say, when I got the opportunity of working in the theatre I thought great, really good gig, really good place...winter with the theatre company and back here to do Begbie.

The next winter the theatre company folded in Vancouver and that's when I went 'Oh, I can't afford to live in Vancouver in the winter anymore so that's when we bought the house in Wells, 'cause it was cheaper to live here than there.' Course at that time we could live in [Barkerville] as well, in the summer we had a house here and we were around in costume at all hours of the day.

That would have been the King House. I remember that house well.

Yeah, yeah. Croquet on the back lawn.

Croquet tournaments and pig roasts. Ok, let's talk a little about Matthew Baillie Begbie. You've been doing this job for 19 years. Probably longer than anyone else...

Probably. I'm not sure about Franklin but I would expect that I've been doing it the longest. Although mind you, 19 years on the bench, Begbie had 36, I have another 17 years to go!

Seeing as you've done it for 19 years, which is a considerable length of time by any measure, certainly longer than any other interpreter that I know of, you must find Begbie to be a fascinating character to have held your interest for all these years.

Hmm. Well the thing is...we were've got a 36 year career. If you had to recount somebody's life for 36 years, obviously your not going to do it year by year, but there are enough accrued anecdotes that, in theory, you've got enough material that you wouldn't have to worry about using something new every day; which, we don't have to do anyway.

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