The Fraser River is named after Simon Fraser, one of North America’s most remarkable early explorers who, as an employee of the North West Company, established western Canada’s first white settlements: Fort McCleod (1805), Fort St James (1806), Fort Fraser (1806) and Fort George (1807). Having traced the route taken by fellow explorer Alexander Mackenzie across the continent, he set out in 1808 to establish a route to the Pacific and secure it for Britain against rival US claims. Instead, he travelled the entire 1300km length of a river – the Fraser – under the mistaken impression he was following the Columbia. “We had to pass where no man should venture,” he wrote, making most of the journey on foot guided by local First Nation people, pushing forward using ladders, ropes and improvised platforms to bypass rapids too treacherous to breach by boat. Reaching the river’s mouth, where he would have glimpsed the site of present-day Vancouver, he realized his error and deemed the venture a commercial failure, despite the fact he had successfully navigated one of the continent’s greatest rivers for the first time. Few people felt the need to follow Fraser’s example until the discovery of gold near Yale in 1858; prospectors promptly waded in and panned every tributary of the lower Fraser until new strikes tempted them north to the Cariboo.

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