The Fraser River is the biggest river in British Columbia – it’s 1,375 kilometers long! The place where a river begins is called the headwaters. The Fraser River headwaters are at Mount Robson in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. The Fraser River ends near the city of Vancouver, as it empties into the Salish Sea.
The Fraser Watershed is home to many British Columbians and includes over a quarter of all land in the province.
The Fraser River was named after Simon Fraser, who was the first settler to explore the Fraser River.
A river is a flowing body of water that usually drains into an ocean, sea, lake, or another river. It is longer than it is wide, and follows the path of gravity as it twists and turns through its territory. Rivers usually contain fresh water but, when they meet the sea, the water becomes brackish. Brackish water is a mixture of salt and fresh water. The fresh water found in rivers comes from springs, melting snow, precipitation, and other streams, creeks, or other rivers.
A watershed is an area of land where any drop of water that enters the environment eventually ends up in the same body of water. Watersheds can include many different habitats like mountains, streams, forests, valleys, and creeks, as well as farms, cities, and towns. We all live in a watershed—even if we don’t live very close to a body of water!
The Fraser River has Many Names
Halqemeylem-speaking peoples (Upriver Halkomelem)
Northern St̓át̓imcets people
Map Exploration Activity
Solve the Puzzle!
To help us understand the different parts of the Fraser River watershed, we can divide it into six different regions: the Fraser Headwaters, Nechako, Cariboo-Chilcotin, Fraser Canyon, Thompson, and Lower Fraser. Each of these regions has its own unique traits that make it a special and important part of the watershed.
First Nations have lived throughout the Fraser Watershed, since time immemorial (that means before anyone can remember!) When you click on each tab, you will learn about different First Nations who speak the same language and live within these regions. Within each of these language groups are many different and unique individual Nations.
Click each of the blue tabs to learn about the different regions of the watershed. As you explore, look for the hidden letter in each region. When you find it, write it down – at the end of this section, you will have the chance to unlock the watershed code!
The Fraser Headwaters are where the Fraser River begins. Here, the river is clear and blue, thanks to the glacial waters that feed into the river. The Fraser Headwaters is the traditional territory of First Nations in the Dakelh, Wet’suwet’en and Sekani language groups.
Click the icons to explore the Fraser Headwaters and learn more about this part of the watershed.
The largest community in the Fraser Headwaters is Prince George.
Old growth forests can be found in the Fraser Headwaters region. These forests contain very large, old trees that are home to many different plants and animals.
The Fraser Headwaters region is home to important grizzly bear habitat.
The Fraser River begins at Mount Robson, which is the highest peak in in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. This area is protected within Mount Robson Provincial Park, the second-oldest park in British Columbia.
Chinook salmon migrate all the way up to the Fraser Headwaters!
As the Fraser River bends south, it enters the Nechako region. This region is named for the Nechako River, the second-largest tributary of the Fraser. A tributary is a river or stream that connects with a bigger river and drains its water into the bigger river. The Nechako region is the traditional territory of First Nations in the Dakelh language group.
Click the icons to explore the Nechako and learn more about this part of the watershed.
The Nechako region has vast and remote wilderness, which provides habitat for moose, deer, elk wolves, lynx, cougars, and black bears.
Mountain Pine Beetles can be found in this region. These beetles cause harm to lodgepole pine trees by cutting off the tree’s ability to absorb water.
White sturgeon live in this part of the watershed.
The Nechako and Fraser rivers meet near the city of Prince George.
The scenery changes as the Fraser River travels through the Cariboo-Chilcotin region. This part of the watershed contains dense forests, dry grasslands, cedar rainforests, glacial lakes— even some deserts! The Cariboo-Chilcotin region is the traditional territory of First Nations in the Tsilhqot’in, Dakelh, and Secwepemc language groups.
Click the icons to explore the Cariboo-Chilcotin and learn more about this part of the watershed.
The Cariboo-Chilcotin is named in part for the caribou that live in this area—but, the names are spelled differently!
The Cariboo-Chilcotin is the biggest region of the Fraser watershed.
This region is home to several species at risk, including American white pelicans, peregrine falcons, American badgers, monarch butterflies, and mountain caribou.
The Cariboo Gold Rush took place from 1860-1863 after gold was discovered in the Horsefly River.
This pit house at Xatsull Heritage Village in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region is one of the traditional Indigenous structures that can still be found across the Fraser Watershed.
The Thompson region is a unique part of the watershed because the Fraser River does not actually run through it! Instead, this region is home to the Thompson River – the largest tributary of the Fraser River. The Thompson region is the traditional territory of First Nations in the Nlaka’pamux, Okanagan, and Secwepemc language groups.
Click the icons to explore the Thompson and learn more about this part of the watershed.
Salmon are very important to First Nation cultures across the Fraser Watershed. Some traditional methods of drying salmon, such as the one shown in this picture, are still used today.
The Thompson River is an important habitat for sockeye salmon.
The Thompson River has two main branches, the North Thompson River and the South Thompson River. The two branches join in Kamloops, before travelling towards Lytton and joining the Fraser River.
The Fraser Canyon sits between the Coastal and Cascade Mountains. It is home to rugged terrain, making it a great place for people seeking outdoor adventures. The Fraser Canyon region is the traditional territory of First Nations in the St’at’imc, Secwepemc, and Nlaka’pamux language groups.
Click the icons to explore the Fraser Canyon and learn more about this part of the watershed.
The Fraser Canyon is home to a fish ladder, which is a structure that helps salmon migrate past a rockslide that occurred in 1913, when the Canadian Northern Railway line was being built.
White sturgeon, burrowing owl, and stickleback are just a few species that live in this area.
Hell’s Gate is the narrowest point of the Fraser at just 35 meters wide. Here, the water rushes down the river at an incredible speed - 200 million gallons of water pass through every minute!
Fishing is an important part of First Nation culture and way of living. Dip netting, a traditional method of fishing, is sometimes used along the river in the Fraser Canyon.
The Lower Fraser region, home to the city of Vancouver, is the most populated region of the watershed. Here, we find the Fraser estuary, which is the last stretch of the river before it meets the Salish Sea. The Lower Fraser region is the traditional territory of the Coast Salish People, a group of First Nations who speak Halkomelem – a language with as many as 17 dialects!
Click the icons to explore the Lower Fraser and learn more about this part of the watershed.
The Fraser estuary is a very important part of the salmon’s migration journey. The brackish water found here allows the young salmon to slowly adjust to the saltiness of the ocean, and gives them a chance to grow!
The Lower Fraser region is an important bird habitat. It has the biggest population of migratory birds in Canada!
The Lower Fraser region is also home to lots of industry. The Port of Vancouver, the largest port in Canada, is located here.
Around 8 out of 10 people who live in the Fraser Watershed live in the Lower Fraser!
Solve the Puzzle!
You’ve learned a lot about the different regions of the watershed! Unscramble the six letters you discovered in this section to spell the word that links all six regions together. What is it?
Keep learning about Watershed CPR with this resource from the Fraser River Discovery Centre: My River, My Home
The Watershed CPR Education Program is a self-guided, virtual learning experience all about the Fraser River, created by the Rivershed Society of BC.
In this virtual experience, users are introduced to the three pillars of Watershed CPR—Connect, Protect, and Restore—through a series of engaging activities and interactives about the Fraser Watershed. Users will learn about the flora and fauna that inhabit the Fraser; the First Nations who have lived in this area since time immemorial; some of the conservation issues affecting the watershed; and how to “perform Watershed CPR” and become a Watershed Defender.
To learn more about Watershed CPR and the Rivershed Society of BC, visit rivershed.com.
Thank you to our partners in development: Cicada Creative and Canadian Geographic, and immense gratitude to the Kwantlen First Nation for their time and contributions to the program. Consultation from Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Funding provided by the Pacific Salmon Foundation, and Environment and Climate Change Canada, via the Environmental Damages Fund.
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