A foggy view of the trades store at the Fort St. James National Historic Site.

A foggy view of the trades store at the Fort St. James National Historic Site.

The spirit of Fort St. James

As we approach Halloween, an alternative idea of a spirit of a place may come to mind.

Typically, when people speak of the spirit of Fort St. James, they tend to be referring to the generosity, sense of community and general kindness of the place.

However, as we approach Halloween, an alternative idea of a spirit of a place may come to mind.

Originally, All Hallows’ Evening (now contracted to Halloween) was the precursor to All Hallows Day or All Saints Day.

While the night has shifted over time and become more about dressing up and getting candy, it also still has a connection to spirits.

Well, given the age of Fort St. James, which was traditional Nak’azdli territory long before it became Fort St. James, there are bound to be some spirits of note in the area.

Of course, there is the fairly well known spirit story of Chief Kweh (or Kwah) himself.

Buried overlooking the start of the Stuart River, Kweh is said to watch over the salmon and is referred to as the “dreamer of the salmon.”

A rattle which hung from his grave was said to shake each year when the salmon were running. “And in this way Chief Kweh was believed to continue to provide for his people,” according to the information at the historic site’s visitor centre.

But there is at least one other story of a spirit in the Fort.

An interpreter at the historic site, Nicole Robert, had a strange experience which she has never forgotten.

The first year she began working at the park, Robert was in the trade store one day, and it was getting close to lunch time.

It was pouring rain, and Robert did not want to leave her post or get wet, and so she was calling towards the officer’s dwelling house to find out what was for lunch, as the interpreters would make a collective lunch.

A woman appeared in the doorway of the officer’s dwelling wearing a black and white polka dot skirt and top. She was a native woman and Robert said she could see her lips moving, but couldn’t hear any words and the woman was holding her hands open.

When the rain eased up, Robert walked towards the building, and the woman faded back into the dark of the building.

She assumed the woman was a new hire and asked after her when she arrived for lunch. The other interpreter informed Robert no one else was there.

A medium visiting the site went through the house another time and reported seeing a woman of the same description as Robert.

Robert has not seen the woman again, but she said she has had other experiences at the historic site, catching glimpses in her peripheral vision of people or movement and shadows.

She has also smelled a strong puff of tobacco smoke inside the store on occasion, and said visitors have confirmed to her they smelled it as well.

There is no smoking allowed on the site, however, and no one around was smoking.

“It would be very strong, like somebody just lit it,” she said.

The experiences do not worry Robert, however, as she has never felt anything unfriendly from her visitors.

“I feel that they’re okay,” she said. She does, however, always say “good morning” to whoever may be inside when she goes into the building.

Happy Halloween and may the spirits of Fort St. James be with you.

Fort St. James National Historic Site