Saturday, September 1, 2012

Aug 31 – To Vanderhoof and Fort St James

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It was another surprisingly great day at a place we almost skipped.

The night was clear with an almost full moon and cold, at about 5C when we woke up.


This morning the fog had descended.


We drove for a short while and seemed to get out of the fog but then we went down in this valley.



Once we got out of the valley it was gloriously sunny for the rest of the day.


Last night I was unsure of our target for today but since we had previously purchased a Parks Canada annual pass I decided to go to Fort St James National Historic Site, about 60 km north of Vanderhoof.

We planted the RV in Dave’s RV Park near Vanderhoof. It is a very nice little park.


We packed a lunch and headed north.

Fort St. James was not really a fort. It was a fur trading post for the Hudson Bay Company. It was a collection point where the Indians, traders and European trappers would bring their furs and exchange them for either goods or money.

I was a bit leery about spending a day going because a lot of the historic sites we have gone to are, frankly, a bit boring, especially the smaller ones.  It turns out this was by far the best historic site we have ever been to, large or small, Canada or US. There are many reasons. The buildings are restored but original. The contents were amazing and looked like they were in use.

The main reason was the costumed guides. They are all local and you could tell they just loved being there. They were very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. One of them said that one advantage that they have is that the inhabitants of the fort left extensive diaries describing the minutia of daily life that have survived. The guides are all voracious readers so have a lot of intimate details of daily life. 

The fort is on the shores of Lake Stuart (even spelled the “correct” way).



The first building we went into was the warehouse. It is built without any nails. The outside vertical pieces have a groove in them and the horizontal ones have a groove that fits into it.



The inside blew us away.


Real fur everywhere and lots of it. The guide went through the samples. Muskrat, rabbit, ermine, mink, marten, wolverine , river otter, red fox, cross fox, silver fox, skunk, wolf, beaver and bear are the ones I can remember


You were encouraged to pick up and touch anything.

Below are hanging fox pelts with piles of bear and beaver pelts on the ground.




Who knows how many muskrat pelts.


Other places might have one example of each animal. Here there were hundreds of real pelts hanging up or just lying around as it might have been in a real warehouse. We went around seeing how each one felt.

The guide says he sometimes gets into some lively conversations with PETA type people that come in that are rather shocked.

The other end of the building had the supplies that would be traded for the furs. The red boxes are tea. Some of the furs went to Europe by going around South America but others would go to the Far East to be traded for things like silk and tea.


Next we went to the fish cache. It is the building up on stilts to protect the food from the animals.


There were hanging dried salmon and pork shoulders. They were also real because you could touch them and smell the fish as you went in.



The salmon was their staple food through the winter. It was pretty tough to chew and people that lived on it for a long time eventually wore their teeth down.

Next was the men’s house. European trappers could stay here for free while they were at the fort doing their business.


They just spread out a bed roll in the surprisingly large attic. The roof of the building had burned at one time but they rebuilt it using as much of the original (now charred) wood as they could.


Central heating from the mud, straw and cow dung fireplace. The handyman’s bedroom is in the back.


The wallpaper in the bedrooms was newspaper. When they were restoring the building they found an original piece of the paper with enough identifying information that they managed to find an archive with the entire newspaper edition. They made copies and used it for the restored walls.


Everyone tried out the lounge chair.


Next was the trading post. This one was a exact duplicate because the original burned to the ground.



Next was the manager’s quarters.


First we had to try some of the toys outside.


Below, we both stepped on the board, grabbed a set of handles and tried to walk. We weren’t very stable. They would have races using them.


Inside the house we saw where someone is making Bobbin lace. Unfortunately it was her day off.





She is teaching some of the local teenagers who start with easier patterns.


The building is also a bed and breakfast. For about $100 a night you get a huge dinner and breakfast and get the house to yourself for the night,


They cook the meals on this wood stove. There were some freshly made cookies on the shelf at the back. The cook was currently making pies for tonight’s guests. It was about 100F in the kitchen.


She then went out to feed her heritage chickens





Now for our highlight. We were told there would be a hunting demonstration. A young lady brought bows and arrows and some very large arrows and a thrower called an atlatl.



We expected to just see her using them but no, everyone that wanted to got a chance to come up and give them a try.

On each of our first turns with three arrows, neither one of us hit the bale of hay. The atlatl has a pin on the back that fits into a hole at the back of the arrow. There is a little Y shaped bracket to hold the arrow steady at the front. The motion to launch it is much like throwing a baseball. Straight over the shoulder and then snap your wrist.


They seem to wobble a lot in flight.



The jacket came off for the second turn.



This time we both managed a hit.


Jennie didn’t care to try the bow and arrow but I wanted to see what I remembered from high school gym.


I was the best archer of the day. Two on the rather large bulls eye and one in the hay, on my first turn.


Everyone got as many turns as they wanted. Very cool.

We went back to the visitor’s center to watch the movie. When we first came in they were showing the German version.

We saw this huge rain storm off in the distance.




Driving home we realized we were in a huge hole of bright sunlight. Looking in every direction we could we could see dark rain clouds. They were all far enough away that they never reached us.

To think we almost drove right by here. I don’t remember any of the blogs I read saying that they went. Their loss.

A really great day. We did miss the free BBQ tomorrow though.

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