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.