Fort St. James – Home Of World Class Chicken Racing

Imagine you are going on your vacation and you drive by this. What do you do?

Photo credit – Linda Glover twitter @GloverLindaJ

You immediately get your copilot to Google what the hell that sign means.

Turns out that there is daily chicken racing in Fort St. James, BC. A place that I only knew of because my Mastercard got sent to their bank instead of the Fort St. John branch that I was supposed to pick it up at.

I totally see the mixup. Really.

We found out that we had missed race day and would have to come back by 11:45 AM any other day. We decided that we would stop in on our way home and see what this was all about because we do love us some chickens.

So we passed the Shovel Lake fire after we left Burns Lake, but the highway was absolutely choked out with smoke. We were afraid that we would miss the races as the fires seemed to be in the direction we were going. We stopped in Endako and called the district office in Fort St. James. We were assured that the skies were blue there and we believed them. This is what it looked like over the lake as we pulled into town.

And this is what it looked like an hour later.

We camped at Paarens Beach Provincial Park and it was lovely, except for the wasps and the smoke. Had a chilly dip and a scrub up and then sat around the fire (camp, not forest) for a beer and to look at the stones we found in the opal beds that morning.

The campsites were spacious and the cost was much less than the cramped site we had a few nights earlier in Port Arthur. We highly recommend staying here when you inevitably come to see this really cool piece of Canadiana.

While out about town, we found out that the chicken races were held at the Fort St. James National Historic Site.

Did you know that they have the largest collection of restored wooden buildings in Canada? Did you also know that those buildings are in danger now from the wildfires?

Well, they weren’t when we were there so this post will be happy in nature because we only thought it was a bit of smoke at the time.

On to the tour!

So after paying and all that good stuff, we went into the museum part where we learned of the Carrier people and how they fit into the fort and the town.

The museum is full of interesting artifacts and stories but the coolest thing about it is how it sort of glosses over how they had to assimilate.

Sure, there was an infographic that told a bit about it…

… but they never delve into what the consequences of the white man’s actions were. It’s a good thing because nobody wants a depressed tourist walking around, bringing everybody down.

In case you couldn’t read that, here is a closer shot.

Well, that’s a bit of an understatement, but also a loaded compliment.

To take our minds off of the injustices, they let us play dress up with a bunch of old looking clothes.

I don’t think it worked, but we need to boost our spirits for the rest of the day. Maybe some deluxe hard candies will do the trick. Happy, happy, happy!

We leave the museum and go outdoors. We are then greeted by the red chairs of last year’s 150th birthday of our great nation. A nation that is founded on the freedom of its authoritarian, Christian people.

Wow, this post is getting too dark.

Okay, well, on with the fun times!

We walked around and took a bunch of photos. One of them was a 360° panorama, but I probably can’t put it in here. I’m going to try it though.

Wow, that worked great. Thanks, Google.

Here are some common people photos. I’m not even going to try anything fancy anymore.

Pretty sure that this is the dock. I’m not an expert or anything, just going on a hunch.

The building on the left is the warehouse, the tall one at the back is the food cache, the short one in the middle is the men’s cabin and the one in the foreground is the market. I guess we were mad at the girl in the warehouse for marking our quiz question wrong, so we didn’t take any photos inside. This was outside though.

Take that, stickler.

Next, we went to the food cache.

Mmmmmm, salmon and hams. Or, if we ship the names it’s halmon.

I just learned about shipping names like Brangelina and Bennifer. I’m a little bit slower on the trends.

 

This house behind the tree is the commander’s, or whatever you call him’s, house. We’ll get to that later.

In the men’s house, we got the question wrong, but the guy was cool so Gerri took a bunch of photos.

And where would we be if we didn’t have an old photo of native peoples dressed in white man’s clothes celebrating Dominion Day by performing an ancient Scottish game?

Sorry, it just spurts out of my brain sometimes.

This one below is the market and the scene for our first video.

I think that was the only one we got right, but to be fair, they used a lot of trick questions. They just didn’t want us to win.

We went to the tanning cabin and met Nicole, who was very engaging and educated on the subject. She was doing some very intricate beadwork when we got there and we were having such a good talk that we forgot to take any photos. Either way, it was one of the better and more informative stops on the tour, so we recommend you going in and talking with her.

After that, we went to the commander’s, or whatever he is, house. It’s the one behind the tree.

It was my favourite place of all because after the boring stuff inside, there were…

Goats and Chickens!

Yep, this is the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

The world-famous, Fort St. James Chicken Races

First, we had to place our bets.

 

They forgot the -ed on the end. Just kidding. It’s just what all the kids say now. Incessantly.

Notice how confident I am? I’m using both of my hands to show you the winner and my favourite way to have chicken prepared.

We really enjoyed the level of interaction there was with the crowd.

And then there was the comedy routine that was probably just to keep us occupied while they fed cocaine to their favourites.

The second race had a bit of a troubled start and we found out who got the cocaine. Luckily for them, they were disqualified and didn’t have to get tested. The third race was my favourite. I just love the hesitation at the end.
Here’s another reason it was my favourite race.
I might have lied when I said I wasn’t spending them. Too bad my phone was getting buggy and needed a restart.
So in the end, we got to look at a lot of history, good and bad, talk to some interesting folks and watch some world-class chicken racing. We won some, we lost some, but we went home with big smiles and a button…

Oh, and a few bucks as a souvenir.

We also did some quests and I almost forgot to tell you that we got to shoot slingshots.

So, in conclusion, go to Fort St. James. We’ll be going back and hopefully for a bit longer and to possibly do a bit of rockhounding. Rumour has it that there is jade around there. Well, not so much rumour as a geological survey.

John Sheldon Opal Beds

While on a short vacation/scouting trip to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, we stopped to look at some property in Burns Lake. It looked really good on paper, and when we went into where we thought the driveway was, we were quite hopeful.

Then we saw it was about ten kilometres down a mountainous logging road.

That would not be good in the winter; not by a long shot.

While we were camped out near the property, Gerri looked up other things to do in the area and it turned out that there was an opal/agate bed only a few kilometres from where we were camping that night.

We decided that we didn’t have time right then but would stop and camp at the site on the way home. We both love looking for fancy rocks, so how could we pass up a chance to go mining for free?

We did a quick search and found out that John Shelford staked the claim in the 1980s after finding two pieces of precious opal but left the claim for the district to turn into a public reserve staking. This means that anyone can go up there and dig up some stones. There was a 1.9 km hike that was easy, with some steep sections but there are opals at the end of it.

Pretty cool, right?

I think that I like rockhounding because Gerri loves rocks so much and I love the outdoors. I also love searching for things as well as the thrill of finding them.

When I can do something I really enjoy and possibly give the love of my life something that she really enjoys, I think that’s probably the best hobby you could have. It also gives us both a few things we crave more than anything.

Quality time together, relaxation, and adventure.

There are lots of other fantastic points, like mental and physical exercise, fresh air, the outdoors, and wildlife. We also like cooking outdoors and making coffee in odd locations.

Okay, back to the quest

A few days later we came back and drove into the campsite part of the John Shelford Opal Bed. There were some signs.

The campsite was pretty good, especially for free. There were a few spots, a couple of picnic tables with fire pits…

…and a really cool outhouse.

That sign is not the cool part, especially because we now had to fry the steaks. No, this is the cool part.

I could watch the stars from my throne. If only I could stay up that late.

We had some supper and then tucked into the old fartsack for the night.

(Seriously. After those beet tops and the tri-tips, it got a little gaseous in there.)

OPAL TIME!!!!!

As you can see, we are very eager beavers. I couldn’t even wait to put shoes on… or pants.

After a breakfast of leftover steak and potatoes, we were off and running.

This is the start of the trail the next morning.

 

The first half a kilometre was really nice. We scared up a cow moose with calf near the start, but I couldn’t get my phone out quick enough.

I kept the phone out after that. This was the pleasant part. We’re thinking the only reason it was good, was because it had been recently logged off.

There were nice, flat trails for a bit. Like this.

It didn’t take long for them to get like this though.

You can see the trail in the centre of the last photo. We quickly learned that things have changed since the 2011 article that we were going by. It said the trail was easy. We have since notified them and it is now changed to difficult or challenging.

We made it to a few different sites, where we found stones, but we were pretty beat. We decided to hike back out before we lost the strength and the will to survive. We also didn’t want to forget the way. (We’re getting older, you see.)

There was more of this…

…but in the end, we made it back. Partly because we found a plethora of huckleberries to munch on along the trail.

There were literally thousands of bushes like this along the higher parts of the trail, which was good news, I think.

I figure that if there were bears (or people) in the area, these patches would have been robbed already. Most of the raspberries were drying on the plants and the huckleberries were at the peak of ripeness. If there was a bear around, I imagine we would have seen sign of it.

Unless…

They just fill up on hikers that stop to pick the berries amongst a trap of deadfall trees.

A little worse for wear, but after some big gulps of green juice, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Well, I was not feeling good about choosing shorts for the hike. These are some of the reasons.

When we were all packed up we thought we would boogie into Burns Lake for a swim as we had seen a nice little beach area when we passed through. As we came down off the mountain, we saw this.

That was the start of the Shovel Lake fire which has been burning out of control for over a week. As of posting, it is the largest wildfire in British Columbia.

Well, enough sadness. On to the gratuitous partial nudity!

The water was pretty cold, but it was just what we needed to rinse off the blood, sweat, and tears of a day of prospecting.

Speaking of prospecting, this is some of what we found.

And our favourite…

This is the one that made Gerri cry when we got it out without breaking it. We don’t know if it’s an opal or an agate but it will always be the reason we went on that trip.

We have no idea if anything we found is worth money, and we don’t care. We don’t even know what to do with them but we are going to start looking into lapidary tools and see if we can turn any of it into something beautiful. We have always loved looking for cool rocks but had never really known how rewarding it could be to go through such a struggle for the unknown and finding so much more than you were expecting.

I guess this is why there are prospectors.

When we got home to the computer, we figured out how to track ourselves, somewhat, with the location thingy on the phone. I traced it out for you. It’s supposed to be 1.9 kms in, but we think it is a bit longer now to get around everything.

When we go back, we will be taking better tools and will be cleaning up a lot of that trail. We would like to spend a few days camping and really learn about how to extract these gems without smashing them into shards. We’d also love to pick a bunch of those huckleberries. I bet they make a delicious jam and maybe even a pie.

If anyone is interested in meeting up on a long weekend and having a rockhounding adventure, the site is about fifteen minutes from Burns Lake, BC and we would love to plan a trip for possibly the Labour Day weekend, but definitely for next summer.

You can reach us at chris@granolalight.com or via telepath crystals. We’re hoping that a few of these hold those qualities.