It was British sailors, and clerks and officers from the Hudson's Bay Company, who gave the first recorded performances in British Columbia in 1853. No details are known about what the sailors performed at Esquimalt harbour aboard the H.M.S. Trincomalee on October 18. All that we can learn about the traders' performance, which took place at Fort Victoria on December 23, is that a ball followed a “Theatrical Play”. It would be five years until Queen Victoria actually named the province and over a decade more before British Columbia entered the Canadian Confederation in 1871. By 1886, when the townsite of Granville was granted incorporation as the City of Vancouver, military participation in the area's theatrical life was a well-established, and already declining, practice.
The sailors had to amuse themselves somehow, and many of them came from the tradition of English amateur dramatics. Thus the early citizens of Vancouver were entertained by Sailor Barker's clog dance during one of the People's Popular Concerts at the Market Hall. A writer for the Vancouver Daily World noted on November 27, 1893: “Mr Barker, of HMS Royal Arthur proved himself to be a clever dancer, and richly deserved his encore. This was certainly the best clog dancing yet witnessed in Vancouver.”
Shortly after, at another Popular Concert, W. Barker was part of the Royal Arthur's Minstrel Troupe, with a string band accompaniment. On December 13 at the Y.M.C.A. Hall some of the ship's crew assisted in a free exhibition of “gymnastic evolution” given by Professor W. Francis and his students.
The sailors must have been a colourful addition to the city's entertainment scene. The artillery, too, showed their high spirits after a smoking concert at the Imperial Opera House a year later, in 1894, given by the No. 5 Battery of the B.C.B.G.A. (British Columbia Battalion of Garrison Artillery). This was the Battalion's second smoking concert, or smoker, an evening of organized entertainment at which smoking was permitted. The program included songs, club swinging, instrumental solos and a tug-of-war, as well as a tableau with a military theme. In a tableau, or tableau vivant, the performers took expressive, fixed poses in order to re-create a painting or scene on stage. An old cannon that usually stood in front of the Hastings Mill office was used to add authenticity to this particular tableau. According to the World on April 23, 1894:
After the entertainment was over some of the artillery boys thought they would have practice with [the cannon]. They loaded it up with powder, and one of the boldest gunners touched it off - boom, crash, rattle, rattle, rattle! ... The result of the explosion was the breaking of a number of windows in the building, the extinguishing of the gas [lighting], and for the present it is hardly safe to mention the word cannon to a No. 5 company man of the B.C.B.G.A. (next page)
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