The North West Company and the route to gold

The name ‘Fraser’s River’ or ‘Frazer’s River’ would be tied to the gold rush that changed the course of British Columbia history, repeated in bold headlines from California to Australia.

What’s in a name?

Simon Fraser - North West Company explorer

Simon Fraser – North West Company explorer

One day while farming in Upper Canada, Simon Fraser was told that there were thousands of foolhardy goldseekers trying to make their way up the same river he had explored fifty years earlier in 1808.

Back then, Simon Fraser was an explorer with the North West Company; the first fur trade company to establish forts west of the Rockies. Fraser named this vast area New Caledonia. He established Fort George in 1807 (present day Prince George).

Simon Fraser was determined to find a river route to Oregon. The Dakelh told him that the wide river that flowed by the fort, Ltha-Koh-Cho, emptied into the coast. Could this river be the Columbia River?

This river becomes too treacherous to paddle the whole way, the Natives told him. There were easier alternative routes to the coast.

After the ice melted and the ground had thawed in May 1808, Simon Fraser and two Native guides, 19 voyageurs and 2 clerks set out on their journey.

Simon Fraser concluded the Natives had been right after all. This river was not a good way to travel! Fraser returned to Fort George after the nail-biting trip with a diary full of stories of climbing sheer bluffs, hanging onto rock walls with bare hands and abandoning their canoes. At one point the voyageurs, exhausted, injured and disheartened, turned mutinous. Fraser talked them out of it.

Later, his friend David Thompson named the river after Fraser.

Note: My drawing is an interpretation of what Simon Fraser looked like during his journey back to Fort George. According to Kwantlen oral history, the fur traders were a bearded, ‘fierce-looking’ lot.

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