Fort St James is a beautiful and historic small town located along the shore of a spectacular Stuart Lake in North-Central British Columbia. It offers an abundance of year-round recreation options for visitors, including hiking, biking, water activities, and winter sports. This town was established in 1806, by Simon Fraser for the North West Company.
The town is home to the Fort St James National Historic Site, which is full of historical stories and takes you back to the 19th Century. The site contains Canada’s most extensive collection of original wooden buildings restored to represent the fur trade era. Many stories revolve around the interactions and relationships between the Indigenous peoples (Carrier First nations) and the European fur traders. Fort St James was one of the posts in the northern fur district that was known as New Caledonia. Being the second permanent post in the Rocky Mountains, it soon became the centre of the northern fur trade district. The fur traders considered this to be a wilderness posting due to its remoteness. Fur traders’ tales tell stories of their adventures, challenges, changes, and negotiations with the Carrier people. Although today, restoration reveals a single year in time, which is 1896, the stories still offer a history of more than one hundred and forty-six years. The Hudson’s Bay Company closed its shop on the original site in 1952.
Presently, the township has a population of approximately 1,510 (2016 Census). Fort St James being the service centre for rural communities offers services such as stores, restaurants, banking, lodging, health services, college, schools, and other businesses.
How to get there
Directions from Vanderhoof: Fort St James is approximately 60 km north of Vanderhoof, the geographical centre of British Columbia. From Vanderhoof drive on Hwy 16 West for about 7 km and then take BC-27 North towards Fort St James.
From Prince George: Take Hwy 16 West from Prince George, and drive for approximately 100 km to arrive in Vanderhoof, and then take Hwy 27 North.
Road Trip from Vancouver Area: It is approximately 11 hours drive to get to Fort St James from the Lower Mainland area. Drive 99 North towards Cache Creek and then turn onto Hwy 97 towards Prince George. There are lovely campgrounds along this route as well. If you are heading from Vancouver, you can also take a side trip to the historic town of Barkerville. Read our other post here.
At the National Historic Site, you get an opportunity to step back in time and discover the historical treasures. There are several buildings on the site. In each of the buildings, you will interact with staff dressed in period costumes. Daily admission for one adult is $7.90, senior $6.60, and no charge for children and youth.
The General Warehouse and Fur Storage
The warehouse is created with the Red River framing technique, using a piece on piece construction. The warehouse is stocked piled with a reproduction of original trade goods, furs, and artifacts to take you back in time. You will see a wide variety of furs and smell the aroma of beaver castors.
The Fish Cache
This building illustrates a combination of Carrier and European design. The Carrier used raised structures for their caches, and the Europeans used their style and built this building via the Red River framing technique. Climb the stairs to see the fish cache that holds hundreds of dry smoked salmon.
The Staff House
This building was used to accommodate temporary or permanent staff, as well as visitors to the post.
The Trade Store
The trade store is a reconstructed building because the original building was damaged by fire in 1919. As you enter the building, you can see many goods available for trading. The Carrier people and traders were involved in the trade because traders were in desperate need of salmon and beaver fur, and the Carrier people could get other things for exchange.
The Murray House
This building is named after A.C. Murray, the officer in charge of Fort St James, who chose to retire in Fort St James rather than leaving the district. Stroll through lush gardens and meet some animals in the yard.
You can also spend the night in the Murray house bed and breakfast and enjoy a gourmet dinner and a pancake breakfast served by costumed staff. For more information call 250-996-7191 ext. 25 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Source: Parks Canada)
After your tour, you can relax and enjoy a delicious lunch at Commemoration Cafe with stunning views of Stuart Lake.
World Class Chicken racing: Every day at 11:30 am, you can attend the Fort’s world-class chicken races. You get an opportunity to bet on the bird of your choice and join the crowd in cheering as the race begins. If your chicken wins the race, you get the bragging rights and wear a pin-on winner button ;).
Enjoy majestic views of Stuart Lake from the Historic Site
Aviation History (Russ Baker Memorial): A memorial is erected in honour of Frank Russell “Russ” Baker, one of the first bush pilot in the Fort St James area. The memorial is approximately 3 km from the Historic Site. To get to the memorial, drive on Hwy 27 North and turn left onto Lakeshore Dr (Just after Cottonwood Park) and drive for about 1 km to a secluded bluff with a spectacular view of the Stuart Lake.
Useful Links and General Information
Parks Canada – Fort St James National Historic Site
Visitor Information Centre is located at 115 Douglas Ave, Fort St James
Parks: Cottonwood Park, Spirit Square, Goodwin Park
Winter Activities: Murray Ridge Ski Area, Ice Fishing, and Dog Sledding
Summer Activities: visit Fort St. James Farmers Market, play Golf, and/or enjoy the lake.
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