Fraser River

Fraser River


For other uses of this name see Fraser River (disambiguation).
The Fraser River is the longest river in British Columbia, Canada, rising near Mount Robson in the Rocky Mountains and flowing for 1,375 km (870 mi), into the Pacific Ocean at the city of Vancouver. The estuary at the river's mouth is a site of hemispheric importance in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.


The Fraser drains a 220,000 km² (85,000 sq mi) area. Its headwaters are in the Yellowhead Pass, which forms the first part of its course before its descent at Valemount to the Rocky Mountain Trench through which it runs northwest via a region known as the Robson Valley. After running northwest past 54° north, it makes a sharp turn to the south, meeting the Nechako River at the city of Prince George, then continuing south, progressively cutting deeper and 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 by the Thompson River at Lytton, where it proceeds south until it is approximately 40 km (25 mi) north of the 49th parallel, which is Canada's border with the United States. It then runs through a progressively deeper canyon between the Lillooet Ranges of the Coast Mountains on its west and the Cascade Mountains on its east. At Yale, at the head of navigation on the river, the canyon opens up and the river is wider, though wihtout much adjoining lowland until Hope, where the river then turns west and southwest 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 and the eastern and southern suburbs of Vancouver.

After 100 kilometres (about 60 mi), it forms a delta where it empties into the 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 delta area lies across the international border in Washington in the United States, as does the upper reaches of the tributary Chilliwack River and Sumas River.

The river's volume at its mouth is 112 km³ (27 cu mi) each year (about 800,000 gal/s or 3550 cubic metres per second), and it dumps 20 million tons of sediment into the ocean. It is the tenth longest river in Canada.


On June 14, 1792, the Spanish explorers 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 1807, 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 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 through the 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 Fort 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 with the Oregon Treaty of 1846. It was the site of its first recorded settlements of Aboriginal people (see , St'at'imc 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.

This river has been designated a Canadian Heritage River for its natural and human heritage.


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 as its high level of sediment flows would result in a short dam lifespan. Today, Fraser Herald at the Canadian Heraldic Authority is named after the river. In 1858, the Fraser River and surrounding areas were occupied when the gold rush came to the Fraser Canyon and the Fraser River.

The delta of the river, especially in the Boundary Bay area, is an important stopover location for migrating shorebirds


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.

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.

1894, June, the Fraser River flooded Chilliwack and the Fraser Valley. The high water mark at Mission reached 25.75’.

1948 saw massive flooding in Chilliwack and other areas along the Fraser River. The high water mark at Mission rose to 24.7’.

Timeline of 1948 flood

  • 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, 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.
  • In June 3, 1948, the steamer Gladys supplied flood-stricken Chilliwack with tents and provisions as well as moving people and stock onto high ground.

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.

At the height of the 1948 flood, 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 $20 million.

Due to record snowpacks on the mountains in the Fraser River catch basin which began melting, combined with heavy rainfall, water levels on the 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 was averted.


See also


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