Fraser River /ˈfreɪzər/ is the longest river within British
Columbia, Canada, rising at
Fraser Pass near Blackrock Mountain in the
Rocky Mountains and flowing for 1,375 kilometres (854 mi), into
Strait of Georgia
Strait of Georgia at the city of Vancouver. It is the 10th
longest river in Canada. The river's annual discharge at its mouth
is 112 cubic kilometres (27 cu mi) or 3,550 cubic metres per
second (125,000 cu ft/s), and it discharges 20 million tons
of sediment into the ocean.
6.1 1948 flood
6.1.2 Reasons for the flood of 1948
6.2 Later flooding
8 See also
10 Further reading
11 External links
The river is named after Simon Fraser, who led an expedition in 1808
on behalf of the
North West Company
North West Company from the site of present-day
Prince George almost to the mouth of the river. The river's name in
Halqemeylem (Upriver Halkomelem) language is Sto:lo, often seen
archaically as Staulo, and has been adopted by the Halkomelem-speaking
peoples of the
Lower Mainland as their collective name, Sto:lo. The
river's name in the
Dakelh language is Lhtakoh. The Tsilhqot'in
name for the river, not dissimilar to the
Dakelh name, is ʔElhdaqox,
Sturgeon (ʔElhdachogh) River (Yeqox).
Map of the
Fraser River drainage basin
Fraser River at Fraser Pass
The Fraser drains a 220,000-square-kilometre (85,000 sq mi)
area. Its source is a dripping spring at Fraser Pass. The river then
flows north to the Yellowhead Highway and west past
Mount Robson to
Rocky Mountain Trench
Rocky Mountain Trench and the
Robson Valley near Valemount. After
running northwest past 54° north, it makes a sharp turn to the south
at Giscome Portage, meeting the
Nechako River at the city of Prince
George, then continuing south, progressively cutting deeper into the
Fraser Plateau to form the
Fraser Canyon from roughly the confluence
of the Chilcotin River, near the city of Williams Lake, southwards. It
is joined by the Bridge and Seton Rivers at the town of Lillooet, then
Thompson River at Lytton, where it proceeds south until it is
approximately 64 kilometres (40 mi) north of the 49th parallel,
which is Canada's border with the United States.
Fraser River in Lillooet
From Lytton southwards it runs through a progressively deeper canyon
Lillooet Ranges of the
Coast Mountains on its west and the
Cascade Range on its east. Hell's Gate, located immediately downstream
of the town of Boston Bar, is a famous portion of the canyon where the
walls narrow dramatically, forcing the entire volume of the river
through a gap only 35 metres (115 feet) wide. An aerial tramway takes
visitors out over the river. Hells Gate is visible from the
Canada Highway 1 about 2 km (1.2 mi) south of the
tramway. Simon Fraser was forced to portage the gorge on his trip
through the canyon in June 1808. At Yale, at the head of navigation on
the river, the canyon opens up and the river is wider, though without
much adjoining lowland until Hope, where the river then turns west and
southwest into a lush lowland valley, known as the Fraser Valley, past
Chilliwack and the confluence of the Harrison and Sumas Rivers,
bending northwest at Abbotsford and Mission, turning southwest again
just east of New Westminster, where it splits into a North Arm,
which is the southern boundary of the City of Vancouver, and the South
Arm, which divides the City of Richmond from the City of Delta.
Richmond is on the largest island in the Fraser,
Lulu Island and also
on Sea Island, which is the location of
Airport; the eastern end of
Lulu Island is within the City of New
Westminster and is called Queensborough. Also in the lowermost Fraser,
among other smaller islands, is Annacis Island, an important
industrial and port area, which lies to the southeast of the eastern
Lulu Island (Sea, Lulu and Annacis Islands lie between the
North and South Arms. Other notable islands in the lower Fraser are
Barnston Island, Matsqui Island,
Nicomen Island and Sea Bird Island.
Other islands lie on the outer side of the estuary, most notably
Westham Island, a wildfowl preserve, and Iona Island, the location of
the main sewage plant for the City of Vancouver.
After 100 kilometres (about 60 mi), it forms a delta where it
empties into the
Strait of Georgia
Strait of Georgia between the mainland and Vancouver
Island. The lands south of the City of Vancouver, including the cities
of Richmond and Delta, sit on the flat flood plain. The islands of the
delta include Iona Island, Sea Island, Lulu Island, Annacis Island,
and a number of smaller islands. While the vast majority of the
river's drainage basin lies within British Columbia, a small portion
in the drainage basin lies across the international border in
Washington in the United States, namely the upper reaches of the
Chilliwack and Sumas rivers. Most of lowland Whatcom County,
Washington is part of the
Fraser Lowland and was formed also by
sediment deposited from the Fraser, though most of the county is not
in the Fraser drainage basin.
Similar to the
Columbia River Gorge
Columbia River Gorge east of Portland, Oregon, the
Fraser exploits a topographic cleft between two mountain ranges
separating a more continental climate (in this case, that of the
British Columbia Interior) from a milder climate near the coast. When
an Arctic high-pressure area moves into the
British Columbia Interior
and a relatively low-pressure area builds over the general Puget Sound
Strait of Georgia
Strait of Georgia region, the cold Arctic air accelerates
southwest through the Fraser Canyon. These outflow winds can gust up
to 97 to 129 kilometres per hour (60 to 80 mph) and have at times
exceeded 160 kilometres per hour (100 mph). Such winds frequently
reach Bellingham and the San Juan Islands, gaining strength over the
open water of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The estuary at the river's mouth is a site of hemispheric importance
in the Western Hemisphere
Shorebird Reserve Network.
The Water Survey of
Canada currently operates 17 gauge stations that
measure discharge and water level along the majority of the mainstem
from Red Pass just downstream of Moose Lake within the Mount Robson
Provincial Park to Steveston in
Vancouver at the river mouth. With
an average flow at the mouth of about 3,475 cubic metres per second
(122,700 cu ft/s), the Fraser is the largest river by
discharge flowing into the Pacific seaboard of
Canada and the fifth
largest in the country. The average flow is highly seasonal;
summer discharge rates can be ten times larger than the flow during
The Fraser's highest recorded flow, in June 1894, is estimated to have
been 17,000 cubic metres per second (600,000 cu ft/s) at
Hope. It was calculated using high-water marks near the hydrometric
station at Hope and various statistical methods. In 1948 the Fraser
River Board adopted the estimate for the 1894 flood. It remains the
value specified by regulatory agencies for all flood control work on
the river. Further studies and hydraulic models have estimated the
maximum discharge of the Fraser River, at Hope during the 1894 flood,
as within a range of about 16,000 to 18,000 cubic metres per second
(570,000 to 640,000 cu ft/s).
The Descent of the Fraser River, 1808, by C.W. Jefferys
On June 14, 1792, the Spanish explorers
Dionisio Alcalá Galiano
Dionisio Alcalá Galiano and
Cayetano Valdés entered and anchored in the North Arm of the Fraser
River, becoming the first Europeans to find and enter it. The
existence of the river, but not its location, had been deduced during
the 1791 voyage of José María Narváez, under Francisco de Eliza.
The upper reaches of the
Fraser River were first explored by Sir
Alexander Mackenzie in 1793, and fully traced by Simon Fraser in 1808,
who confirmed that it was not connected with the Columbia River.
In 1828 George Simpson visited the river, mainly to examine Fort
Langley and determine whether it would be suitable as the Hudson's Bay
Company's main Pacific depot. Simpson had believed the Fraser River
might be navigable throughout its length, even though Simon Fraser had
described it as non-navigable. Simpson journeyed down the river and
Fraser Canyon and afterwords wrote "I should consider the
passage down, to be certain Death, in nine attempts out of Ten. I
shall therefore no longer talk about it as a navigable stream". His
trip down the river convinced him that Fort Langley could not replace
Vancouver as the company's main depot on the Pacific coast.
Much of British Columbia's history has been bound to the Fraser,
partly because it was the essential route between the Interior and the
Lower Coast after the loss of the lands south of the 49th Parallel
Oregon Treaty of 1846. It was the site of its first
recorded settlements of Aboriginal people (see Musqueam, Sto:lo,
Secwepemc and Nlaka'pamux), the route of multitudes of
prospectors during the
Fraser Canyon Gold Rush and the main vehicle of
the province's early commerce and industry.
In 1998, the river was designated as a Canadian Heritage River for its
natural and human heritage. It remains the longest river with that
The Fraser is heavily exploited by human activities, especially in its
lower reaches. Its banks are rich farmland, its water is used by pulp
mills, and a few dams on some tributaries provide hydroelectric power.
The main flow of the Fraser has never been dammed partly because its
high level of sediment flows would result in a short dam lifespan, but
mostly because of strong opposition from fisheries and other
environmental concerns. In 1858, the
Fraser River and surrounding
areas were occupied when the gold rush came to the
Fraser Canyon and
the Fraser River. It is also a popular fishing location for residents
of the Lower Mainland.
The delta of the river, especially in the
Boundary Bay area, is an
important stopover location for migrating shorebirds
The Fraser Herald, a regional position within the Canadian Heraldic
Authority is named after the river.
Fraser River as seen from the grounds of Westminster Abbey, above
Hatzic in Mission, British Columbia. Sumas Mountain in background.
Fraser River is known for the fishing of white sturgeon, all five
species of Pacific salmon (Chinook, Coho, Chum, Pink, Sockeye), as
well as Steelhead Trout. A typical white sturgeon catch averages
between 14 to 45 kilograms (30 to 100 lb).A
large white sturgeon weighing an estimated 500 kilograms
(1,100 lb) and measuring 3.76 metres (12 ft 4 in) was
caught and released on the
Fraser River in July 2012
but it was reportedly measured nose to tip of tail, not nose to fork
as is the officially recognized method for accurate measurement of
this species. Thus the reported length of this fish, and its estimated
weight, were likely greater than what its actual measurements would
have been if standard data collection had been utilized in this case.
Regardless of this discrepancy, landing large sturgeon like this is
reasonably uncommon, however fish nearing or achieving this size are
caught on rod and reel in the Fraser river virtually every year, and
reports of even larger fish being lost occur with fair regularity. A
variety of guiding outfits throughout the Fraser valley and lower
mainland offer services to pursue this magnificent sportfish.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (June
After European settlement, the first disastrous flood in the Fraser
Valley occurred in 1894. With no protection against the rising waters
of the Fraser River,
Fraser Valley communities from Chilliwack
downstream were inundated with water. In the 1894 floods, the water
mark at Mission reached 7.85 metres (25.75 ft).
After the 1894 flood, a dyking system was constructed throughout the
Fraser Valley. The dyking and drainage projects greatly improved the
flood problems, but unfortunately over time, the dykes were allowed to
fall into disrepair and became overgrown with brush and trees. With
some dykes constructed of a wooden frame, they gave way in 1948 in
several locations, marking the second disastrous flood. Flooding since
1948 has been minor in comparison.
1948 saw massive flooding in
Chilliwack and other areas along the
Fraser River. The high-water mark at Mission rose to 7.5 metres
Throughout the May 24 long weekend, the waters of the Fraser were
rising steadily, but only a few thought any real danger lay ahead.
On May 28, 1948, the Semiault Creek Dyke broke.
On May 29, 1948, dykes near Glendale (now Cottonwood Corners) gave way
and in four days, 49 square kilometres (12,000 acres) of fertile
ground were under water.
On June 1, 1948, the Cannor Dyke (east of Vedder Canal near Trans
Canada Highway) broke and released tons of
Fraser River water onto the
Greendale area, destroying homes and fields.
On June 3, 1948, the steamer Gladys supplied flood-stricken Chilliwack
with tents and provisions as well as moving people and stock onto high
Reasons for the flood of 1948
Cool temperatures during March, April and early May had delayed the
melting of the heavy snowpack that had accumulated over the winter
season. Several days of hot weather and warm rains over the holiday
weekend in late May hastened the thawing of the snowpack. Rivers and
streams quickly swelled with spring runoff, reaching heights surpassed
only in 1894. Finally, the poorly maintained dike systems failed to
contain the water.
At the height of the 1948 flood, 200 square kilometres (50,000 acres)
stood under water. Dykes broke at Agassiz, Chiliwack, Nicomen Island,
Glen Valley and Matsqui. By the time the flood waters receded a month
later, 16,000 people had been evacuated, damages totaled
Due to record snowpacks on the mountains in the
Fraser River catch
basin which began melting, combined with heavy rainfall, water levels
Fraser River rose in 2007 to a level not reached since
1972. Low-lying land in areas upriver such as Prince George
suffered minor flooding. Evacuation alerts were given for the
low-lying areas not protected by dikes in the Lower Mainland.
However, the water levels did not breach the dikes, and major flooding
Tributaries are listed from the mouth of the Fraser and going up
Fraser River in the Glen Fraser area, about 25 kilometres (16 mi)
upstream of Lillooet
An east-facing aerial view of Ladner beyond Barber Island, Duck
Island, Gunn Island and Port Guichon in the
Fraser River Estuary
Williams Lake River
West Road River
West Road River (Blackwater River)
List of tributaries of the Fraser River
List of crossings of the Fraser River
List of crossings of the Thompson River
List of crossings of the Nechako River
List of longest rivers of Canada
French Bar Canyon
British Columbia rivers
Moran Dam (proposal)
Steamboats of the Lower Fraser and Harrison Lake
Vanport Oregon flood May 30 1948
Salishan languages and Chinook Jargon. The
Halkomelem form is
Sto:lo, used as the name of the people of the
Fraser Valley stretch of
the river. "Staulo" is the anglicization used in the Kamloops Wawa
lexicon of the Chinook Jargon
^ Carrier language.
Lhtako is also used to mean the
Dakelh people of
^ Indigenous name recorded by Alexander Mackenzie on expedition to
find Columbia River’s headwaters; circa 18-?
^ Tsilhqot'in name meaning
Sturgeon (ʔElhdachogh) River (Yeqox)
^ a b c "
Fraser River Fact Sheet". Canadian Heritage Rivers System.
Retrieved December 2, 2016.
^ Ambient Water Quality Assessment and Objectives for the Fraser River
sub-basin from Kanaka Creek to the Mouth, BC Ministry of Environment
^ a b c "Comprehensive Review of
Fraser River at Hope: Flood Hydrology
and Flows, Scoping Study Final Report" (PDF). BC Ministry of
Environment. October 2008. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
^ "Fraser River". BC Geographical Names.
^ Canadian Global Almanac. John Wiley and Sons. 2004
^ Cannings, Richard and Sidney. British Columbia: A Natural History.
p.41. Greystone Books. Vancouver. 1996
Dakelh Placenames, Yinka Dene Language Institute website
^ "North Arm Fraser River". BC Geographical Names.
^ Mass, Cliff (2008). The Weather of the Pacific Northwest. University
of Washington Press. pp. 146–148.
^ "Description". Western Hemisphere
Shorebird Reserve Network.
Retrieved February 18, 2008.
^ "Ambient Water Quality Assessment and Objectives for the Fraser
River Sub-basin from Kanaka Creek to the Mouth". British Columbia
Ministry of Environment, Water Management Branch, Resource Quality
Section. November 1985. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
^ a b Ferguson, John W.; Michael Healey (May 2009). "Hydropower in the
Fraser and Columbia Rivers". Catch and Culture (newsletter). Mekong
River Commission. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
^ Hayes, Derek (1999). Historical Atlas of the Pacific Northwest: Maps
of exploration and Discovery. Sasquatch Books.
^ Mackie, Richard Somerset (1997). Trading Beyond the Mountains: The
British Fur Trade on the Pacific 1793-1843. Vancouver: University of
British Columbia (UBC) Press. p. 58.
^ "Fraser River". Canadian Council for Geographic Education. Archived
from the original on April 17, 2005.
^ "Reifel Bird Sanctuary".
^ River Water Still Rising. Prince George Free Press, June 6, 2006.
^ Fraser flood alert imminent Mission gauge under close scrutiny,
river likely to peak at 7.5 m by Saturday. Langley Times, June 6,
Boyer, David S. (July 1986). "The Untamed Fraser River". National
Geographic. Vol. 170 no. 1. pp. 44–75.
ISSN 0027-9358. OCLC 643483454.
The Fraser, Bruce Hutchison, 1950, classic work by noted BC editor and
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Map and photographs
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