By: Fraser Riverkeeper  09-12-2011

Years before the Europeans discovered the Fraser River, it was inhabited by the aboriginal peoples of British Columbia. They traded with each other by traveling the rivers and trails and had various paths that connected the interior of British Columbia to the coast.

The Fraser River was first explored by the Europeans on June 14, 1792, by the Spanish explorers Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and Cayetano. They only discovered the northern arm of the Fraser River. During an earlier expedition by José María Narváez in 1791, the existence of the river was known, but the location was not found.

In 1793, Sir Alexander Mackenzie navigated the upper reaches of the river, but it was more fully explored by Simon Fraser in 1808. Further exploration continued as George Simpson came to the river in 1828 to decide whether Fort Langley would be adequate as the Hudson Bay Company’s main Pacific depot. After further examination, Fort Vancouver still remained the main headquarters for the company, but this allowed the establishment of Fort Langley.

Most of British Columbia’s history is linked to the Fraser River because it was an important and essential route between the Interior and the Coast. In 1856, James Huston discovered gold near Fort Kamloops. This triggered the search for gold from the Thompson River to the Fraser River, and eventually the first big gold discovery was made south of Yale. Following the miners from the gold rush, there was an influx of businessmen and merchants who brought their families to settle in this land. This started the formation of different communities and towns, bringing civilization to British Columbia.

Paddlewheelers, mules, and walking were means of transportation for the communities before 1861. Soon after, the Royal Engineers started the development of “the wagon road” to the Cariboo. When this 619 km road was opened, wagons and stage coaches used it immediately. The modernization of the transportation system was essential for Canada to become one nation. This was made possible under the governance of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) route in B.C. was built through the Rocky Mountains, the interior plateau and all along the Thompson and Fraser Rivers. It eventually led to the coast through Vancouver.

The historical significance of the Fraser River, and its importance in the development of the province of British Columbia, has garnered it the title of a Canadian Heritage River.

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Geography and Geology

The Fraser Basin system comprises the main Fraser River and a huge network of tributaries that drains more than a quarter of British Columbia before the river’s egress into the Pacific Ocean through Vancouver. Its headquarters are in the Mount Robson Provisional Park in the Rocky Mountains, and it passes across the dry Fraser Plateau and through the coastal mountain ranges to the Pacific Ocean.


Watershed Facts

Discharge rate at the River mouth: The Fraser River flows at an average rate of around 3550 m3/second and dumps up to 20 million tonnes of sediment at its mouth in the Fraser Basin Delta. In addition to the industrial stresses exerted on the region, new development pressures metastasize as the vibrant Vancouver region draws more residents and more economic activity.



At the delta mouth of the river in the Lower Fraser valley, there are a number of recreational opportunities including walking, bird watching, picnicking, fishing and boating. The riverhead is in the Rocky Mountains, and there it provides a haven for canoeing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting enthusiasts. There are viewpoints, parks, trails, and an aerial tram that can take sightseers across the Fraser River.


Water Quality

After accessing all of the site-specific conditions and how well-protected the aquatic life is, the Index ranks waterbodies in the categories of Excellent, Good, Fair, Marginal, or Poor. It drains about one-quarter of the province’s water and ranges from central British Columbia, to Southwest British Columbia and east to the Rocky Mountains near Jasper.


The River

They do not damage or physically harm the adult fish; however, with the establishment of commercial salmon farming, sea lice parasites on juvenile salmon pose a great threat or even death to the young fish. Several organizations and biologists claim that salmon farming located along west Coast of BC are responsible for the dramatic decrease of wild sockeye salmon in the Fraser River in 2009.