The Boatmen of the Fraser River

In the early days of the gold rush, there was no wagon road from Yale to Lytton. Sternwheelers could only reach as far as Hope; none of them could overcome the strong current of the Fraser River from that point north.

As a result, ‘boatmen’ like Ned Stout and James Moore carried freight for gold seekers in four ton canoes through the canyons of the Fraser River. Moore wrote:

“When coming to very strong water the crew of each boat would double up and take one boat over at a time; that would leave the boatmen independent of help from the other boats. We generally made the round trip (Yale – Lytton) in nine days and very often three trips before the river commenced to rise. With eight tons of freight in two canoes, we would clear $1,000 a trip over and above expenses.”

Ned “the boatman” Stout, was known to stick to his boat even through the rapids of Hell’s Gate. He was considered the only boatman on the river who made the trips without portaging.

The boatmen were able to navigate the treacherous waters of the Fraser River, but they were unable to avoid the half-a-cent tax:

“The boatmen carrying goods through the canyon this winter (1860) are growling very much about having to pay half-a-cent per pound for their goods. They think it is rather hard that they should have to pay that amount to the Government to work against their own interests. They say they cannot run their boats when animals can pack, and therefore cannot interfere with packing.”