Fort St James, BC, incorporated as a village in 1952 and as a district municipality in 1995, population 1691 (2011c), 1350 (2006c). The District of Fort St James is located in central British Columbia on the southeast shore of Stuart Lake, 50 km north of VANDERHOOF. The area is part of the traditional territory of the Dakelh (see CARRIER) and one of their reserves lies adjacent to the village. Founded in 1806 by Simon FRASER as a North West Company post, Fort St James is the oldest continuously inhabited non-aboriginal community in British Columbia.
After 1821 under the HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY, the fort was the administration centre for northern and central British Columbia, then called NEW CALEDONIA, until 1857. The fur trade had declined by the 1880s and 1890s, but the trading post was maintained until 1952. Fort St James did not expand substantially until the extension of the BRITISH COLUMBIA RAILWAY through the village in the late 1960s. The railway, projected to run northwest from Fort St James to Dease Lake, 663 km away, spurred mining and forestry industries in the region. Due to cost and changing resource markets, the rail line to Dease Lake has not been completed. Today sawmills form the economic base for Fort St James, along with tourism and some mining.
Fort St James is famous for its connection with early bush pilots in the 1930s. Grant MCCONACHIE formed United Air Transport, which became the forerunner of Canadian Pacific Air Lines. The company began as a bush-freighting business based in Prince George and flew out to Fort St James and other remote communities. A memorial in the village honours Francis "Russ" BAKER, another bush pilot. He based his company out of Fort St James and it grew into PACIFIC WESTERN AIRLINES. Both these airlines are now part of AIR CANADA.
Some of the fort's buildings dating from the 1890s have been preserved as a national HISTORIC SITE (designated 1971). Also situated on Stuart Lake near Fort St John is Our Lady of Good Hope Church, one of the oldest churches in British Columbia, which was built in 1873. One of its priests, Father MORICE, printed prayer books and newspapers in the Carrier language in a cabin behind the church.