Fort St. James National Historic Site of Canada
Natural Wonders & Cultural Treasures
Fish Cache (1889)
© Parks Canada
By the 1890s Fort St. James reflected a combination of Carrier and European influences. Architecturally, no other building illustrates this better than the fish cache. The Carrier used raised buildings for their caches, often including living trees for the upright posts. The Europeans copied the Carrier idea of a fish cache in their own “piece-on-piece,” or Red River Frame, style: a post and beam construction incorporating hewn “filler” logs. Today the hewn logs in the fish cache bear marks of a long and varied past, having spent many years as parts of other buildings in previous constructions of the post, before finally being incorporated into the fish cache you see today.
In the early 1800s when Simon Fraser founded Fort St. James, buffalo was the main staple in the diet of many people living on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. Salmon were the “buffalo” west of the Rockies. In 1815 John Stuart, officer in charge of Fort St James, wrote, “We have no buffalo or deer, except the reindeer and not many even of those; so that, properly speaking, we may say that water alone supplies the people of New Caledonia with food.”
© Parks Canada
For decades after their arrival, the fur traders found themselves without the technology or know-how to stay alive in this new land. The traders had to rely on the Carrier who had the tools and skills to trap salmon in weirs, then process and sell the dried fish. Buying local salmon cut deeply into the profits of the fur trade. For decades the traders did not achieve their goal of self-sufficiency, until they finally succeeded in establishing reliable trails, waterway routes and a transportation labour system to bring flour, meat and other provisions to the region.