Golden Miles of History

The Fraser River

"In this lash and spill of water, in the slow grinding of rock and cliff, in the perpetual slide of mountain and forest, in the erosion of mountain and gumbo rangeland, in the impact of whirlpool and winter ice, the river is forever mad, ravenous and lonely."

- Bruce Hutchinson, The Fraser

In 1670, the British Crown granted Hudson's Bay Company control over fur trade in the Canadian Shield. To sidestep this monopoly, independent traders in Montreal founded the North West Company a century later. Their mission: to seek fresh territory westward and find a navigable river route from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

In 1805, Nor'wester Simon Fraser & his crew crossed the Rockies and built four NWC trading posts as far south as Fort George at the confluence of the Nechako River & Tacoutche Tesse – The Mighty One – a river they thought was the Columbia. In the spring of 1808, Fraser set out from here in four canoes with two Scots clerks, two Dakelh First Nation native guides and nineteen French Canadian voyageurs to follow it to its mouth.

The first day was harrowing and difficulties navigating the river only increased. When warned by their guides that the impassable Bridge River Rapids were ahead, they left their canoes at Leon Creek and portaged "on a regular path" through country Fraser called "the most savage that can be imagined" but the Dakelh guides would not enter St'át'imc territory.

The expedition was soon met by seven St'át'imc warriors "in readiness for attack" but they were able to negotiate for provisions including "excellent dried salmon" and wild onion syrup.

They camped below the present town of Lillooet north of the clear waters of Cayoosh Creek. Across the creek, stood a fortified village of the St'át'imc who called them "the Drifters" and said their leader had a tattoo of the sun on his forehead and the moon on his chest. It was an uneasy night - some St'át'imc wanted to raid them but a Chief restrained them saying, "They might be able to help us one day."

Over a hundred St'át'imc men rowed over to shake hands with Fraser and traded more dried salmon & a canoe for a metal file & a kettle instead.

South of Lillooet, the river seethes and roars, its canyon walls "where no human being should venture." Aided by First Nations all the way down the river, Fraser noticed it began to rise and fall with the tide. They had almost reached the salt chuck but were driven away by Musqueam warriors when they tried to land.

Fraser's readings confirmed Tacoutche Tesse was not the Columbia River. If he'd known that at Leon Creek, he wrote, "I would have certainly returned" but filthy, starving and in rags, they all made it back to Fort George seventy-one days after they set out.

In 1971, four Scots led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes navigated the Fraser from Prince George to the Salish Sea without portaging, albeit in sturdy inflatable boats with powerful outboard motors, not birchbark canoes and paddles. As far as it is known, they were the first to do so.

As they have done for many thousands of years, the St'át'imc still fish the Fraser in the traditional manner with dip nets and, in the heat of the summer, make excellent wind-dried salmon on racks along the river.