After travelling to Prince Rupert for a pleasant day strolling around the usually rainy port town, we made our way back along Highway 16. (Note: the main pub in PR – Breakers – does not serve beer from the locally produced Wheelhouse Brewing. Instead, it carries Goose Island beer from Chicago. That’s just wrong.) The Lonely Planet guide describes the stretch of road between Prince Rupert and Terrace as one of the most scenic drives in BC. It was pretty nice – and the Skeena River is certainly impressive – but we’re not sure it beats the sea-to-sky highway up to Whistler…
After a quick layover in Smithers (and one more visit to the veritable Sausage Factory), we carried on to Fort St James National Historic Site. Fort St James is a restored Hudson’s Bay Company post on the shores of Stuart Lake, situated 45 minutes north of Vanderhoof, the geographical centre of BC. Originally established by Simon Fraser in 1806 for the North West Company, it was later acquired by the HBC as an important trade and commerce hub during the 19th century fur trade.
Compared to Barkerville, this is a modest-sized historic site consisting of only six main buildings. But what it lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in quality and authenticity. Parks Canada manages this site and runs it like a pro.
Firstly, dogs are allowed! (Barkerville, are you listening?) From the moment you walk in, the displays are well organized, the exhibits and buildings are packed with historical artifacts and it’s all really interesting. Anyone schooled in the Great White North learned about the importance of the fur trade and the Hudson Bay Company’s role in Canada’s early development, so the stacks of HBC blankets and rows of beaver pelts brought back fond memories of elementary school (as opposed to math class).
Together with the displays, the site is staffed with interpretive guides who really know their stuff. One older guide was so knowledgable and enthusiastic that he kept us captivated with stories of pelts and trade routes for nearly half an hour. Others were lured into giving the Bear a bum scrub.
But perhaps the highlight of the tour, Fort St James features daily chicken races. Unlike our luck with the ponies, we walked away winners having wagered on Number 3 and it was truly gratifying afterwards to smack talk some of the 5-year-olds that laid down ‘cluck bucks’ on the other 4 losers…
So if you’re ever in the middle of BC, do yourself a favour and drop by Fort St James – it’s clucking worth it.