Fort St. James is a district municipality and former fur trading post in north-central British Columbia, Canada. It is located on the south-eastern shore of Stuart Lake in the Omineca Country, at the northern terminus of Highway 27, which connects to Highway 16 at Vanderhoof.
Founded by the North West Company explorer and fur trader Simon Fraser in 1806, it came under the management of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1821 with the forced merger of the two battling fur companies. Also known historically as Stuart Lake Post, it is one of British Columbia's oldest permanent European settlements and was the administrative centre for the Hudson's Bay Company's New Caledonia fur district. The fort, rebuilt four times, continued as an important trading post well into the twentieth century. Now the fort is a National Historic Site of Canada with some buildings dating to the 1880s.
The community celebrated its in 2006 and is incorporated as a district municipality.
As part of his commission from the North West Company, Fraser and his assistants John Stuart and James McDougall explored potential river routes to the Pacific Ocean from 1805 through 1808. Explorations in the Winter of 1805-06 by McDougall resulted in the discovery of Carrier's Lake, now known as Stuart Lake. In the heart of territory inhabited by the Carrier or Dakelh First Nation, this proved to be a lucrative locale for fur trading and so a post - Fort St. James - was built on its shore in 1806. In 1821, the fort came under the control of the Hudson's Bay Company, when the North West Company merged with it. It subsequently became the administrative headquarters of the Company's vast New Caledonia District.
The fur trade was slow to take route in the area, since the economy of the Dakelh people had been based on the fishery, rather than on trapping. In addition, there were customary and ceremonial restrictions which placed obstacles in the way of an efficient fur economy. Nonetheless, eventually the post became profitable, and continued to function until its closure in 1952.
The community is located on the south-eastern shore of Stuart Lake, at the head of the Stuart River. Both the lake and the river are named for Fraser's assistant John Stuart, who would later become head of the New Caledonia District of the North West Company.