Paarens Beach Provincial Park: Nature and Culture
is an ideal base from which to explore the rich heritage of the
area. Only minutes away in Fort St. James you can visit Fort
St. James National Historic Site. This fully restored Hudson’s
Bay Company Post commemorates the partnership between the fur traders
and First Nations People. It is the largest group of original wooden
buildings representing the fur trade in Canada. The Stuart Lake
Post was founded in 1806 because of the fur trade. Through the 1800s,
the area went through several phases with the arrival of the Hudson’s
Bay Company in 1821, the changing of its name to Fort St. James
in 1822, and the settlement saw its importance as a fur trading
centre diminish in 1869 when gold was discovered 100 miles north
in the Omineca Valley. With the miners came a new role and economic
prosperity for Fort St. James and it remained a hub of activity
into the 1900s. Today the area is driven by forestry and tourism.
Upon arrival you will receive a warm welcome at the modern visitor centre where you can watch a presentation in the theatre, roam around the display room and step back in time with a walk out to the old Hudson’s Bay Company Post. Here you will meet costumed interpreters working in the garden, see Carrier people practising ancient arts such as canoe building, hide tanning and the drying and smoking of salmon. Before heading home, relax and enjoy a snack or lunch at the Old Fort Cafe, an open-air log building with picnic tables.
The Indigenous name for the site of present-day Fort St. James is Na-’Kra-ztli which means “arrows floating by”. Although settled by Europeans almost 200 years ago (Fort St. James is said to be the oldest established community in British Columbia) Indigenous peoples had inhabited the area for years prior. These people became known as the “Carrier”, referring to the custom of widows who carried the ashes of cremated husbands on their backs until a traditional potlach could be held.
Another site of historical interest is Our Lady of Good Hope Church. It was built in 1878, is the third oldest church in the province, and remained in regular use until 1951. Visitors can still attend a weekly mass at the historic church in the summer months.
Stuart Lake, one of the largest natural lakes in the province at about 70 kilometres long, is the southernmost in a chain of three lakes. The Stuart-Takla chain includes Stuart Lake, the Tachie River, Trembleur Lake, the Middle River, which has been designated a Provincial Heritage River, and finally the remote and spectacular Takla Lake. Takla is the fifth largest natural lake in the province at close to 90 kilometres in length. Stuart Lake is drained by the Stuart River which joins the Nechako River near Vanderhoof. The Nechako connects to the main body of the Fraser River in Prince George. The Stuart-Takla river system produces provincially significant salmon runs of sockeye and chinook. This lake system also provides excellent fishing for rainbow trout, lake char, dolly varden, and kokanee.
The diverse terrain and vegetation types in the Fort St. James area maintains abundant wildlife. Moose and black bear are plentiful. Other lesser-seen species include mule and white-tail deer, wolf, and grizzly bear. Furbearers include the lynx, beaver, mink, marten, fisher, otter and wolverine.