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Walking through history

Long-time Kamloops residents know Boris Karloff’s eventually iconic acting career had an early stop in the River City.

Long-time Kamloops residents know Boris Karloff’s eventually iconic acting career had an early stop in the River City.

It was 1911 and Karloff had been out in the brush on the coast when he got a call from his agent and, as he told the story once, “he referred me to the Jean Russell stock company in Kamloops. I left my axe in the middle of a tree and got the first train to Kamloops.”

And, for $15 a week, Karloff played the elderly husband in The Devil when the cast took it to Nelson.

Those same residents likely know the Bard of the Yukon, poet Robert Service, worked in a bank in the city, as well, and could often be seen out playing polo.

Local historian Andrew Yarmie said while some people know about stories like these, newcomers don’t — and that’s why he suggested to his fellow members of the Kamloops Heritage Commission something be done about it.

The result is a series of plaques that will be either affixed at locations where famous people or structures once existed, or as close as possible.

A plaque for Mary Spencer, the woman who took one of the famous photos of train robber Billy Miner will be placed just outside the CBC office on Victoria Street while, a block to the west, one will go up commemorating the opera house that not only entertained audiences with classical music but was also home to boxing.

Yarmie, who once taught B.C., local and women’s history at Cariboo College, said research was done at the Kamloops Museum and Archives to write the historical notes on each metal plaque.

They also feature photos of the bits of local history being honoured.

Thanks to a decision to not hold an annual awards dinner this year, the commission had the money in its budget for the plaques to be created, he said.

Even though he has a vast knowledge of local history, Yarmie said there were some facts uncovered during the research that surprised him, like the fact the 200-block of Victoria Street was once home to not only John Scales — who will be honoured with a plaque on the Fuoco Building, where his photography studio once was located — but also had three other photo studios within that short walk.

“In the words of Joni Mitchell, it’s a parking lot now,” he said of the site.

One will be installed where Chinatown once existed at the west end of Victoria Street. One will be in Riverside Park marking the agricultural hall that used to be there.

The goal of the project is to capture the feeling of the day, Yarmie said, and, once they’re up, they will compose a walking tour of the area the city can use in its tourism marketing.

This isn’t the only such heritage tour planned, however. Yarmie said the commission will be looking at other areas of the city for similar plaque-driven heritage tours.