2018 August 1 – Houston to Fort St. James, BC

The smoke was cleared a little bit overnight by a short rainfall.  But the further south we went the worse the smoke got so it was another face mask day. On the way out of Houston we stopped for a quick photo of the world’s largest fly rod. In Fort Fraser we found two geocaches.  One was at the top of some sand cliffs overlooking the river and the other was called The Last Spike as the last spike of the Grand Trunk Railway was set here.  When we got up to the spot near the train tracks all there was in a fenced area was a picnic table.  Nothing at all mentioning the last spike.  No sign, no cairn.  Nothing.  We did find the cache though. Just before Vanderhoof we turned north on Highway 27 to Fort St. James where there is a National Historic Site.  On the way up Highway 27 we stopped at The Rock to find a geocache.  Apparently this large roadside boulder has been the local sign board for years and the messages change frequently.  There were huge chunks of layers and layers and layers of paint that had been torn off the rock before some new paint was added.  Strange.  And, if you take the time to pull some paint layers off why don’t you take them to the dump; as well as your brushes and paint cans – some of which we found near the rock as well. Fort St. James was a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading post in the late nineteenth century.  All but one of the buildings are original dating from the 1880s.                                         They had Canada Parks red chairs.  Each of the main four buildings had a person in period costume that was to tell you about the purpose of the building during the fur trading heyday.  We went to the fur warehouse first and the fellow explained some things.  Then another fellow came in and asked him if he would like a break now; which the man did, so the new guy told us a whole bunch of other things.  This happened with the same fellow relieving the staff for breaks in three of the four buildings.  He loved his history and his stories.  He had some pretty interesting tidbits to share.The General Warehouse and Fur Store is a fully original building from 1888-1889. The warehouse was used to store the trade goods for Fort St. James and the surrounding outposts.  Furs were stored here and baled for the trip to Victoria for sale.  The warehouse is one of the finest surviving examples of a Red River frame fur trade building in Canada.

 There is still a fur trade business in BC and every October furs are brought to Vancouver and sold.  When Canada Parks was setting up Fort St. James as a Heritage site in 1970 they went to the auction and bought all the furs that are displayed in the warehouse. Back in the day, this would be a mere fraction of the pelts stacked and stored in here.  The pelts on the left are wolves and the one on the right is a cross fox due to the pattern on its back.  Fox furs come in red, silvertip black and cross.  The silvertip was and still is rare.  A trapper could sell one for $5000 back in 1880s.  Today a lynx pelt fetches the same amount at the Vancouver auction because there are so few of them trapped.The small brown pellets hanging in the middle of the picture above are beaver castor glands.  Fur trappers discovered that the musk from these glands in the beavers would attract any animal so they began to use the scent when setting trap lines.  They would put it on themselves to mask the scent of a human, and also put in on the pompoms on the tips of their snowshoes so the would leave a trail all the way to each trap on the line.  The traps were also set with the scent.  The animals would just follow the trappers tracks right to the trap.

The fish cache (1889) was stocked with dried salmon and bacon for company employees and the Carrier people.  It was set on four corner elevated posts to deter predators.The Men’s House (1884) was a residence for company employees, pack train hands, boat crews, and visitors.  The building also served as a school house briefly until the Company found out there were children in the Men’s House.  The school was shut down and a new building was put up for a school for the Metis and First Nations children.

 The newspapers were glued to the interior walls to keep out the drafts and cold.  It was only partially successful.  We had to try out the early edition Lazy-Boy.  It was comfortable.  One of the very early ‘celebrity’ endorsements.  The lady in the paper on the right is a very famous opera singer and she hand wrote the endorsement letter for the skin product. The letters of the alphabet and the numbers are still visible from when they were written along the top of the wall to teach the children in the Men’s House make-shift school.The Trade Store was stocked with all kinds of goods that would be traded for the furs that were brought in.  A good clean beaver pelt was the ‘gold standard’ used to value the goods.  No prices were ever displayed of course so the chief factor could bargain as he determined based on the individual trapper and the quality of the furs he brought.  The store burned down several times in the history of the fort, the last time in 1919, so this building is an authentic reconstruction to the 1896 period.  It is the only non-original building at the site. These jars of orange marmalade are original from the days of the fort.  The jam was made from Seville oranges and supplied by a London Company.  The seals, obviously after all this time, have broken so the marmalade is black.  It is not recommended to eat 130 year-old jam.                                                     The managers office.                                                                        The garden is a community garden.

The last building was the Officer’s Dwelling House (built 1883-1884).  The building underwent many changes over the years of the life of the fort but is currently representative of 1896.  The ladies in the house just told us to look around at our leisure.  They did not tell us any stories or describe anything because they were getting the bedrooms ready for guests.  The officer’s house is also used as a B & B.  It sleeps up to five guests.  A bath house with toilet and shower has been built a short walk from the house.  Four people were expected for the night once the site closed a five and the ladies were getting the coffee and cookies put out on the dining room table, setting out some games, straightening the beds, etc.  I did not ask what the price would be to sleep in an authentic late-19th century house. (I looked up the B & B aspect of the park and found out that you can also sleep in the Men’s House – up to four people in single beds in three rooms.  And that you can pitch your tent in the yard. No prices were given.) We left the park a few minutes before closing time and then settled in to our hotel for the night.  We only have a few more days until we will be home again.  We leave tomorrow for Quesnel where we will spend two nights.  The next day we drive up to Barkerville and tour the historic gold rush town.  I first went to Barkerville in 1968 with my Aunt and Uncle to help them with their two small children whom I babysat a lot.  We brought our children up here when they were young as well.  I am interested to see how much it has changed – or if it has changed.

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