Fraser River: Wikis


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Fraser River
Staulo [1], Lhtako [2]
The Fraser River, from the grounds of Westminster Abbey, above Hatzic in Mission, British Columbia, looking upstream (E).
Country Canada
Province British Columbia
Source Near Fraser Pass
 - location Rocky Mountains, Mount Robson Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada
 - coordinates 52°31.1′N 118°19.0′W / 52.5183°N 118.317°W / 52.5183; -118.317
Mouth Fraser River Delta
 - location Strait of Georgia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
 - elevation m (0 ft)
 - coordinates 49°7′N 123°11.5′W / 49.117°N 123.1917°W / 49.117; -123.1917
Length 1,375 km (854 mi) [3]
Basin 220,000 km2 (84,942 sq mi)
Discharge for mouth (average and min); max at Hope
 - average 3,475 m3/s (122,718 cu ft/s) [4][5]
 - max 17,000 m3/s (600,349 cu ft/s)
 - min 575 m3/s (20,306 cu ft/s)
Fraser River watershed
For other uses of this name see Fraser River (disambiguation).

The Fraser River (pronounced [ˈfreɪzər]) is the longest river within British Columbia, Canada, rising at Fraser Pass near Mount Robson in the Rocky Mountains and flowing for 1,375 km (870 mi), into the Strait of Georgia at the city of Vancouver.[6] It is the tenth longest river in Canada.[7] 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.[8]



The Fraser drains a 220,000 km² (85,000 sq mi) area. Its headwaters are just northwest of Fraser 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 at Giscome Portage, 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. From Lytton southwards it 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 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,[9] which is the southern boundary of the city of Vancouver, and the South Arm, which divides the City of Richmond from the Corporation of Delta. Richmond is on the largest island in the Fraser, Lulu Island and also on Sea Island, which is the location of Vancouver 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 end of 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 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, namely the upper reaches of the tributary Chilliwack and Sumas Rivers. Though not part of the Fraser drainage basin, other than the headwaters of the Sumas northeast of Everson, Washington, most of lowland Whatcom County, Washington is part of the Fraser Lowland and was formed also by sediment deposited from the Fraser.

Similar to the 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. In winter, modified arctic air often pushes through this weakness, producing uncharacteristically low temperatures in these areas, often accompanied by strong winds known as outflow winds.

The estuary at the river's mouth is a site of hemispheric importance in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.[10]

Panoramic view of Fraser River as seen from the grounds of Westminster Abbey, above Hatzic in Mission, British Columbia


With an average flow at the mouth of about 3,475 cubic metres per second (122,700 cu ft/s),[11] the Fraser is the largest river by volume flowing into the Pacific seaboard of Canada and the fifth largest in the country.[12] The average flow is highly seasonal; summer discharge rates can be ten times larger than the flow during the winter.[12]

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 1958 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.[5] 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).[5]


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.[13] 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 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.[14]

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.[15] It was the site of its first recorded settlements of Aboriginal people (see Musqueam, Stó:lō, St'at'imc, 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.

This river has been designated a Canadian Heritage River for its natural and human heritage.[3]


The Fraser River at New Westminster (L) and Surrey (R). Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam in background. North Arm at left in foreground, South Arm at right, Annacis Channel.

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.

The delta of the river, especially in the Boundary Bay area, is an important stopover location for migrating shorebirds[16]

The Fraser Herald, a regional position within the Canadian Heraldic Authority is named after the river.


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.

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’.

Breaching of the dyke at the Hatzic Pump House near Mission, British Columbia June 3, 1948

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 (49 km2) 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 (200 km2) 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.[17] 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.[18] However, the water levels did not breach the dikes, and major flooding was averted.

Fraser River in the Glen Fraser area, ~25km upstream of Lillooet
Fraser River at the Upper Fountain Rapids, at Fountain, 15km upstream from Lillooet

Tributaries (listed from the mouth up)

See also


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Carrier language. Lhtako is also used to mean the Dakelh people of the Quesnel/North Cariboo area
  3. ^ a b "Lower Fraser River Hydraulic Model - Summary of Results". 14 November 2006. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  4. ^ Ambient Water Quality Assessment and Objectives for the Fraser River sub-basin from Kanaka Creek to the Mouth, BC Ministry of Environment
  5. ^ a b c "Comprehensive Review of Fraser River at Hope: Flood Hydrology and Flows, Scoping Study Final Report". BC Ministry of Environment. October 2008. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  6. ^ "Fraser River". BC Geographical Names Information System. 
  7. ^ Canadian Global Almanac. John Wiley and Sons. 2004
  8. ^ Cannings, Richard and Sidney. British Columbia: A Natural History. p.41. Greystone Books. Vancouver. 1996
  9. ^ "North Arm Fraser River". BC Geographical Names Information System. 
  10. ^ "Description". Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  11. ^ "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 2009-10-11. 
  12. ^ a b Ferguson, John W.; Michael Healey (May 2009). "Hydropower in the Fraser and Columbia Rivers". Catch and Culture (newsletter). Mekong River Commission. Retrieved 2009-10-11. 
  13. ^ Hayes, Derek (1999). Historical Atlas of the Pacific Northwest: Maps of exploration and Discovery. Sasquatch Books. ISBN 1-57061-215-3. 
  14. ^ Mackie, Richard Somerset (1997). Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British Fur Trade on the Pacific 1793-1843. Vancouver: University of British Columbia (UBC) Press. pp. 58. ISBN 0-7748-0613-3. 
  15. ^ "Fraser River". Canadian Council for Geographic Education. 
  16. ^ "Reifel Bird Sanctuary". 
  17. ^ River Water Still Rising. Prince George Free Press, June 6, 2006.
  18. ^ Fraser flood alert imminent Mission gauge under close scrutiny, river likely to peak at 7.5 m by Saturday. Langley Times, June 6, 2007.

External links


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