Fort St. John has a multifaceted history marked by change.
The cultural influences included the surrounding First Nations, 18th century European exploration, the treacherous but successful building of the Alaska Highway, and the 1950's petroleum boom. These historical markers and more are exhibited at the Fort St. John North Peace Museum, which is dedicated to preserving the culture and history of British Columbia's North Peace Country.
First Nations History
First Nations – Doig River First Nation, Blueberry River First Nation, and Halfway River First Nation – have inhabited the Peace River Valley for millenniums, as archeologically evidenced in artifacts dating back 10,890 years. Today, these First Nations practice traditional forms of hunting and trapping, and drumming and dancing. Peace River Valley First Nations peoples are part of Treaty 8 Agreement signed in 1899 acknowledging the right to land of First Nations peoples in northeastern British Columbia, northern Alberta, and northwestern Saskatchewan, and a southern portion of the Northwest Territories.
First European Settlement
Fort St. John is the earliest site of Euro-Canadian settlement in mainland British Columbia, initiated by Alexander Mackenzie's 1793 travels along the Peace River. The following year, 1794, Rocky Mountain Fort was built near the present location of Fort St. John, at the confluence of the Moberly and Peace Rivers. A series of forts were built at various locations along the Peace River, including in 1860 at "Old Fort," which is still a small suburb of Fort St. John.
During the building of the Alaska Highway, which begins at Mile 0 in Dawson Creek and passes through Fort St. John, soldiers faced daunting challenges, including cold winter weather and rough terrain. Tragically, 12 soldiers lost their lives on Charlie Lake on May 14, 1942, when their pontoon transporting equipment sank. The loss of these soldiers' lives is commemorated today by a monument at Charlie Lake next to Rotary RV Park, 6km/3.7mi north of Fort St. John.
Oil and Gas Boomtown
With the discovery of petroleum, Fort St. John experienced an economic boom in the 1950s and developed into the largest centre in British Columbia, north of Prince George. Oil and gas companies zeroed in on the high petroleum potential in the Fort St. John area, and proceeded to drill a number of test wells. In 1951, one well did produce a limited amount of oil and led to the discovery of a large natural gas field, at an estimated worth of $1.3 trillion. While the region also supports forestry, agriculture, and mining, Fort St. John remains the oil and gas "Energy Capital" of British Columbia.
Fort St. John North Peace Museum
Visit the Fort St. John North Peace Museum and gift shop, which exhibits the area's history, including the pioneer period and oil and gas development. The museum is located near Centential Park, the Fort St. John Visitor Centre, and the North Peace Leisure Pool.