June 02, 2010 | Tips from Travellers >
Smithers, Historic & Heritage Sites
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Hi, this is Ali from the Smithers Visitor's Centre. On May 18th, the welcoming people from Fort St. James National Historic Site invited us to come experience what their site had to offer. Because it's a bit of a hefty drive, they offered to let us stay in one of the heritage homes to make it an overnight trip as opposed to a very long day.
4 of us from Smithers went to Fort St. James- 2 of my coworkers and myself stayed in the designated women's quarters in the officer's dwelling house, and my other male coworker stayed in the (appropriately named) men's quarters. The site is turning these amazing heritage houses into bed and breakfasts, which I highly recommend to anyone with an appreciation of history, and also looking for a rustic stay, as there are no showers for use. What there is though is a delicious homecooked meal, people dressed in period costumes, campfires, and an authentic blast into the past.
After driving in torrential downpour to Fort St. James, we were introduced to our place of stay, and given time to explore the town. Set on the shores of Stuart Lake, Fort St. James is a town of approximately 3000 people. It's a very beautiful, and somewhat unknown place, as it is 30 minutes off highway 16. We came back to a delicious meal cooked on an old-time fire stove of baked potatoes, corn on the cob, and a choice of fish or steak(or salad for us vegetarians). For dessert, there was homemade apple pie, and then off to bed.
I slept in a bed from approximately 1896, and it's interesting to note that at 5 foot 5 inches, I barely fit lengthwise on the bed. Apparently, everyone was much shorter in the 1800s, primarily from lack of good nutrition. Fort St. James was called the "Siberia of the North", because the residents were unable to restock on supplies in the winter, and had to rely on smoked fish.
The next day, after a breakfast of sausage and pancakes, we gathered on the site to play historic games, such as lahal (traditional Aboriginal game), tug-of-war, and try our best on stilts. We were served lunch by the culinary students from the College of New Caledonia, and then were given a tour of the site. The fur building, which would store, among many things, furs and supplies from the Hudson Bay Company. We tried our hand at trading (at which I failed miserably) in a mock trade of a fur with one of the staff in the trading building. We tried "hunting" with sling shots, after which we were told we would all make good vegetarians. We were also shown how fur was made into fabric, and our tour was concluded for the day.
It was all a great experience, especially for the reason that I had never been to Fort St. James. Though I have lived in Northern BC my whole life, I have never seen these places before because of a whole list of excuses that seem pretty lame now that I look back on them. So my advice to anyone travelling in BC, and especially to those living here- get out and experience everything, even if it isn't on your way to wherever you're going. If it happens to be a few hours down the road, then more the better. Remember, as I well know, people come from all over the world for these experiences.