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Fraser Valley History

Aboriginal Peoples:

The first settlers in the area were the Sto:lo people, residents for over 10,000 years, known as part of the Coast Salish. They were the first hunters, boat builders, fishers, gatherers, loggers and made extensive use of the Fraser River and its tributraries. At the time of first contact with Europeans, it is estimated that there were 30,000 people living within Sto:lo territory. This region covered most of the lower Fraser River, from Richmond to Yale. Substantial information about the Sto:lo people may be found on Brian Thom's Coast Salish Home Page and Archaeology and Ethnology of the Gulf of Georgia Area on the Coast Salish web site in Canada's Digital Collections. More information: Fraser River, Richmond and Yale.

Cedar & Salmon:

Based upon their relationship with the land, the Sto:lo people utilized the cedar tree, its trunks, bark and roots, for clothing, shelter, basketry, canoes, rope and tools. Salmon, dried in the Canyon around Yale, were the main winter food along with dried berries and animals. Summer food was gathered as roots and berries (such as cranberries and potatoes) and animals (bear, dear, waterfowl) were hunted. Tools were fashioned from roots, bone, wood and stone.

Early Exploration

In 1808, Simon Fraser and his crew were the first Europeans to explore the Fraser River to its mouth. By 1827, the Hudson's Bay Company had established a fir trade post in the Valley at Langley, near the Salmon River.

However the Sto:lo refused to trade in furs because their life was based upon the Salmon and fishing.

So a unique trade good was exported to England and Hawaii from the Fraser Valley in the form of salted salmon packed in barrels. Later, cedar shingles and timber would become exports.

To provide a source of food for the employees of the Hudson's Bay company, a farm was established nearby.

In time, other forts were established along the river, notably at Hope, in 1848, and a small post at Yale, in 1857.

Gold Rush

Prior to the Fraser River Gold Rush, the First Nations were the keepers of knowledge about the sources of gold. European prospectors found small amounts of gold near Hope and Lytton, after 1856, and by 1858 there were claims along the Fraser from Fort Langley to Yale. With the discovery of gold on Hill's Bar near Yale, a great influx of gold seekers arrived in 1858, traveling the Fraser to Yale. Many Americans entered the Colony through the Okanagan, some back-packed over land near Chilliwack (on the Whatcom Trail), while most arrived on coastal steamers at Victoria, then continued via New Westminister to the gold fields.

New Westminster in 1859 was the entry point for all vessels navigating the Fraser and the River's role as a transportation route greatly expanded. By 1859 prospecting activity moved up river to Lytton and beyond. Through the 1870s to the 1890s, Chinese placer miners reworked the former claims along the Fraser.


To manage the great influx of people, the British Government created the Colony of British Columbia with its capital at New Westminster. In November of 1858, James Douglas gave Mathew Begbie his commission as Chief Justice of British Columbia. Begbie then swore in Douglas as Governor of the Colony. Thus the Crown Colony of British Columbia was formally established at Derby. In 1866 Vancouver Island and BC Mainlalnd united as the Crown Colony of British Columbia and the capitol of the Colony moved to Victoria. The 1870 Yale Convention paved the way for BC to enter the Confederation of Canada.


From the 1860s onward farming and cattle raising operations began in the western sections of the Valley and the settlement of the region gradually increased. Many of the Royal Engineers stayed on after their tour of duty to settle the region. European settlement took lands away from the Sto:lo people. The reserves established specifically for Indian people were not based upon the needs of their traditional life style. Land sales slowly increased settlement but many preemptions of free land were held by people who had no desire to work their property. By 1877, the valley had been surveyed into six-square-mile townships. Much clearing, draining and dyking was necessary before the land could be worked.


Water The Fraser and its tributaries were the first means of transport established by the Sto:lo and other Coast Salish, utilizing canoes (carved from cedar logs). Voyagers, from Fort Langley, used bateaux river boats to transport trade goods from and furs to the Fort. "The Beaver", a paddle wheeler, operated on the Fraser from 1837 onward, connecting Pacific coast forts with Fort Langley. It was the first steam powered vessel on the Pacific Coast of North America. In 1858, the first paddle wheeler "The Surprise" landed at Fort Hope laden with gold seekers.

"The Umatilla," a stern wheeler, was the first to make it to Yale. With the gold rush, steam powered stern wheelers became the main mode of transportation from Yale to New Westminster and up the Harrison River and Lake to Fort Douglas. Harrison Lake was the main route to the interior from 1858 until 1864 when the Cariboo Wagon Road was constructed.

The stern wheelers were able to maneuver in very shallow water, making it easy for them to pull up to the shore virtually anywhere, including: Chilliwack River, Ladner's Landing, Mission, Ruskin, Haney and Hammond. Stern wheelers were used extensively throughout BC, more than in any other area of North America including the Mississippi River. These boats were the principal means moving materials for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway through the Fraser Canyon in the early 1880s. After 1886, Ferry service between Harrison Mills and Chilliwack connected Chilliwack with the CPR.

The routine operation of the railway on the north bank of the Fraser reduced the necessity for water based transportation. By the turn of the century sternwheelers were used mainly for pleasure excursions. With the regular operation of the BC Electric Interurban Railway after 1910 and a network of roads through the 1920s, the stern wheelers were completely phased out.

Rail During the early 1880s, construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) began in Yale to connect with Port Moody. With the completion of the CPR in 1886, rail transport followed the north side of the Fraser River and contributed to opening up the valley as well being a major route through the Fraser Canyon. The CPR built a bridge over the Fraser with a spur from the main line at Mission to Sumas Washington in 1891 which fostered development in Mission and Abbotsford.

In 1891, the New Westminster Southern Railway connected New Westminster, Cloverdale and Blaine, Washington. After the turn of the century, a special CPR train called the Agassiz Local ran into Vancouver every day, picking up milk along its route.

Late in 1910, the BC Electric Interurban Railway began running from New Westminster to Chilliwack connecting the agricultural and lumbering communities, on the south side of Fraser River, with markets in New Westminster and Vancouver. It followed a route from New Westminster to Surrey along Scott Road, through Langley Prairie to Matsqui Prairie, on to Huntington and finally arriving in Chilliwack; all together a 3 hour trip.

In 1914 the C.P.R. built a spur line and brought rails over the Fraser River into Hope and on up the Coquihalla and into the southern interior of B.C. This was called the Kettle Valley Railway. About the same time the Canadian National Railway came through the canyon into Hope and onto the south side of the River commencing operation in 1914.

Highways One of the earliest routes, the Hudson's Bay Company's Fir Brigade Trails, ran from Fort Langley, through Chilliwack River and on to Hope. The Brigade Trails were based upon First Nations' paths through the Valley and the Canyon. Connecting Whatcom, at Bellingham Bay, to Chilliwack River where it joins the Fraser River, the Whatcom Trail was well established by the late 1850s. The construction of North Road in 1859 gave the Royal Engineers from New Westminster access to Port Moody's year-round port facilities. The Cariboo Wagon Road was started from Yale to Spuzzum in 1862 and by 1863 completed to Lytton as a 12 foot wide road covering some 400 miles when completed in 1865 to the Cariboo gold fields. Freight and stage coach services were set up by the BX Express from Yale, through the Fraser Canyon to the gold fields and continued for 50 years.

The Telegraph Trail, in 1865, linked New Westminster, via Langley, Matsqui Prairie, Upper Sumas, around Vedder Mountain, through Chilliwack, to Hope. Semiahmoo Road was upgraded from a trail to a road in 1872. The first true east-west road through the area, created in 1874, was the New Westminster - Yale Road on the south side of the Fraser River (later called the Old Yale Road) following much of the Telegraph Trail route. In the same year the Ladner Trunk Road connected Delta & Richmond with Hope via the Old Yale Road. Scott Road replaced the Kennedy Trail in Surrey. A narrow track ran from New Westminster to the Pitt River, based upon native trails. Horse and oxen drawn sleds were the main methods of transport. The Ferry K de K began operating between Surrey and New Westminster in 1883. In 1889 a bridge connected Richmond to Vancouver.

By 1892 the Queensborough Bridge was joining New Westminster to Lulu Island and Richmond. The ferry linking Surrey and New Westminister was replaced by the combined rail and motor vehicle New Westminster Bridge in 1904. King George Highway (99) linked Surrey with the U. S. A. at Blaine. Rosedale (near Chilliwack) and Agassiz were linked by a ferry, replaced by a bridge in 1956. By 1916 the Dewdney Trunk had reached Deroche. In 1927, the Mission CPR bridge (Highway 11) was planked for vehicle traffic, eliminating long waits for the ferry. The Lougheed Highway (Scenic 7) connected the communities along the north bank of the River in 1930.

1964 saw the completion of the TransCanada Highway (Highway #1) completed from Vancouver through several Fraser Valley communities to Hope. It replaced in some areas and paralleled in others the Old Yale Road. The Port Mann Bridge, spanning the Fraser River from Coquitlam to Surrey was also comleted as part of the Highway.

Current Highways

• Highway 1: Trans Canada Highway: Vancouver to Hope;
• Highway 7: Lougheed Highway: Port Coquitlam, Maple Ridge,
   Mission, Agassiz to Hope;
• Highway 7b: Mary Hill Bypass; Hemlock Valley Road;
    Chilliwack Lake Road;
• Highway 9: Rosedale, Agassiz to Harrison Hot Springs;
• Highway 10: (Highway 91 to Highway 1): Delta to Langley;
• Highway 11: Mission, Abbotsford to the USA border;
• Highway 13: Highway 1 interchange, Aldergrove to the USA border;
• Highway 17: Highway 99 interchange to Tsawwassen ferry terminal;
• Highway 15: Pacific Highway (176th St): USA border, Cloverdale
    to Highway 1 interchange;
• Highway 91: Richmond, Alex Fraser Bridge to Delta;
• Highway 91a: Highway 91 interchange, Queensborough
    Bridge to New Westminster and
• Highway 99: Peace Arch Border crossing to Vancouver.
Road Reports:

Local Organization

Surveying was completed throughout the area by the Royal Engineers setting up the district lot grid system, which is basis of today's land title descriptions and the network of roads. Coast Meridian Road in Surrey and Port Coquitlam was the first north-south road laid out by the Engineers, starting from the first survey post east of Boundary Bay on the 49th Parallel (Canada/US Border).

The Colony of British Columbia joined the Confederation of Canada in 1871. The earliest incorporated areas were Chilliwack and the Township of Langley, both of which became local governments in 1873. Other areas along the Valley were settled and incorporated from the late 1870s through the early 1900s.


Settlements near the Fraser River were regularly flooded. High water from the spring freshettes, combined with spring rains, came in 1876 and 1882 to produce floods. But record floods occured in 1894 and 1948.

Flood of 1948. The spring season of hot weather melted the snow pack earlier than usual and the river rose one foot over its high mark of 1894. Multiple dykes and both rail lines were submerged or penetrated by the waters. The flood covered over 50,000 acres of land.

After the turn of the century various local projects for dyking of the Fraser River began to hold back the routine spring flood waters. Unfortunately, it wasn't until after the flood of 1948 that a major flood control project was established to make the dykes high enough and broad enough to withstand the extremely high water.


Hydroelectric Power. Hydroelectric developments were established in the Stave Valley (near Mission) from as early as 1909 when the Western Canada Power Company Limited started building a power plant at Stave Falls. Construction of the Stave Falls Dam and Powerhouse began in 1909 and was completed by January 1, 1912. In 2004 the Power House became a National Historic Site.

From 1926 to 1928, the construction of an earthfill dam, tunnel and Powerhouse saw the completion of the Alouette component of the regional hydroelectric system. In 1929, construction began on Ruskin Dam and Powerhouse at the narrow granite gorge 5.6 km downstream of Stave Falls. This development created Hayward Lake Reservoir, named after Stave Falls Dam's first Production Superintendent. (Credit: BC Hydro).

Logging & Lumber 1870 saw the establishment of a water powered sawmill where the Chehalis River joins the Harrison River, later in the 1870s a mill was set up at Popkum. The lake shores and the wooded slopes of the north bank of Fraser were extensively logged from the 1880s onward as settlement moved east through the valley.

By 1884, logging became a major industry based upon logging camps which removed all the timber from a given area, then moved on to new timber stands. Logs were hauled to the water's edge of streams and rivers and formed into booms. These large booms of logs were transported down the Fraser to mills in New Westminster and Vancouver and later to the extensive Fraser Mills in Maillardville. The building of the CPR created a great demand for rail ties. Cedar shakes and shingles have long been an export of the area.

Fishing The Sto:lo made use of dipnets, wiers and spears for fishing from the river banks. From their canoes, they used spears and harpoons to catch salmon and sturgeon. Most early settlers fished to supplement their food supplies. By the 1880s, commerical salmon fishing from small sail-powered boats was a major activity supplying the canneries along the Fraser River. Steveston became a major centre for the fishing fleet and at the turn of the century was the busiest fishing port in the world.

After rock slides, caused by the 1913 construction of the Canadian National Railway, partially blocked the river at Hell's Gate, fish ladders were placed along the narrow canyon to aid the movement of salmon to the spawning grounds.

Farming In the 1830s, the Hudson's Bay Company began to develop Langley Prairie, near the Fraser River, as a mixed company farm producing dairy products, root crops and grain. This made Langley the first major agricultural centre in British Columbia. In 1859 Chilliwack farmers began to drive cattle to Hope and Yale for slaughter. About the same time farms were being established in Delta. By 1862 farms in Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Surrey were catering to the markets in New Westminster and Vancouver to the west.

The 1880s, with the building of the CPR, saw a great demand for beef and other agricultural products. The Dominion Experimental Farm was established in Agassiz and began to make a substantial contribution to improving agriculture in the BC. 1885 saw the first creamery and cheese factory set up in Chilliwack--the first cheese factory in Western Canada.

The opening of the New Westminster Farmer's Market, in 1892, created a sales centre for food stuffs raised in all parts of the Valley. The greatest expanses of flat land were predominently on the south side of the River. By the turn of the century, the Valley was a strong producer of hay, oats, root vegetables and beef and dairy cattle.

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