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Peace River History

Peace River History

Peace River History

The Fort St. John - North Peace Museum

by Murray Lundberg

The Fort St. John - North Peace Museum, Fort St. John, British Columbia

Click on the small "thumbnail" photos below to enlarge them.

A Guide to Fort St. John, British Columbia

    The city of Fort St. John, although the oldest white settlement on the mainland of British Columbia, has undergone dramatic changes, particularly since the discovery of vast oil and gas reserves in the area. As is so often the case, this has resulted in the destruction of virtually every sign of the community's past. The North Peace Historical Society, though, has built this excellent museum so that the past and the pioneers are not forgotten.

    In December 1999 I spent a couple of days in the city with lots of free time, and spent much of it at the museum. Several things about the facility impressed me greatly - in particular, the friendliness and depth of knowledge of the staff, the extensive list of donors on each display, and the well-rounded look at the past that is presented.

The Hudson's Bay Company trading post display at the Fort St. John - North Peace Museum, Fort St. John, British Columbia

    The museum is laid out in a roughly chronological manner, beginning with dinosaurs and the archaeological discoveries at the Charlie Lake Cave, continuing through the fur-trading post period, into the agricultural settlement, the building of the Alaska Highway, and finally the discovery of gas and oil and the resulting economic boom.

    There is a good collection of wildlife mounts, including record-book mule deer and polar bear. Many of the artifacts are part of special displays, including:

  • a trapper's cabin
  • an Athapaskan teepee
  • a blacksmith shop
  • a 1921 school room
  • Dr. Szilagyi's 1930s dentist office
  • the 1930 Outpost Hospital room
  • Finch's General Store
  • several well-equipped rooms of a typical pioneer house.
    In March 2001, the museum got an important new addition to the collection. Around 1900, an 18x26-foot building was contructed for the police by Scottish immigrant Thomas Jamieson, along the Klondike gold rush trail. Later used by the British Columbia Provincial Police, it housed an office and sleeping quarters for one officer, while a 12x26-foot lean-to served as the jail. Restoration will be a major long-term project, but the society is excited about the potential - it is in good enough condition that it was moved in one piece, with just some bracing added.

Dr. Szilagyi's dentist office display at the Fort St. John - North Peace Museum, Fort St. John, British Columbia

    The stories of many pioneers are told in just enough detail to be interesting without overwhelming visitors with information.
    * People throughout British Columbia will recognize the name of "Ma" Murray - her controversial writing style in the Alaska Highway News and other papers made her a favourite with people.
    * The little bushplane operation at Charlie Lake run by Grant McConachie grew to become Canadian Pacific Airlines (now Canadian Air International).
    * Bella Yahey, a Beaver Indian woman, was believed to be 118 years old when she died.
    * Dr. Kearney once directed brain surgery by radio. Gordon Stock was stranded 600 miles away, but airline manager Jack Baker saved his life with a razor blade and Dr. Kearney's instructions.
    * Anne Young, the first Registered Nurse in the district, sometimes rode to deliver babies in temperatures as low as minus 70.
    * Monica Storrs, the Anglican missionary whose little Chapel of the Holy Cross now sits on the museum grounds.

The farming equipment display at the Fort St. John - North Peace Museum, Fort St. John, British Columbia

    The museum is easy to find - it sits on the main street, beside a 136-foot high tubular steel oil derrick. The derrick had been in storage at Mile 143, but was donated to the museum by Hi Tower Drilling. It was erected at the museum site in March 1982, and was dedicated on April 24 that year.

    Whether you're just looking for a quick respite from the highway to see how this area was developed, or an in-depth research project, the Fort St. John - North Peace Museum may have just what you need. Listed below are links to more local history, and the museum's hours and other information.

Related Links

Charles Bedaux & 'The Champagne Expedition'
The story of one of the most bizarre of all northern expeditions, which passed though Fort St. John in 1934.

Frank Worth Beaton
The 1945 obituary of this famous Fort St. John pioneer, a Hudson's Bay Company trading post factor.

The History of Fort St. John
From mainland British Columbia's first white settlement to a vibrant modern city.

Monica Storrs
The story of the Fort St. John area missionary who became known as 'God's Galloping Girl'.

Museum's Published Information

Schools, bus tours and other groups are especially welcome. For guided tours by a local pioneer, please book in advance. Call (250) 787-0430

a small admission fee charged. Members and preschoolers are free.

Winter: Monday-Saturday, 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM
Summer: open daily with extended hours.

Turn north off the Alaska Highway onto 100th Street. We are beside the oil derrick on the right.

Gift Shop:
Unique gifts, souvenirs, T-shirts, videos, and a large selection of books on the Peace Country, many by local authors.

The North Peace Historical Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the rich heritage of the North Peace. Volunteers from the Society assist the curator in maintaining the museum and do fundraising events throughout the year. New members, new ideas and, of course donations are heartily welcomed!

The North Peace Historical Society
Email: fsjnpmuseum@fsjmail.com
9323 100th Street
Fort St. John, BC V1J 4N4
Phone (250) 787-0430
Fax (250) 787-0405

Holy Cross Chapel, Fort St. John, 1999
The Holy Cross Chapel in December 1999