History of the Fraser

For thousands of years, the Fraser River has existed for the people and wildlife living within the watershed. The Fraser has seen myriad historical moments of change, misunderstanding, and connection, and, consequently, has also undergone several transformations of its own.

Explore the timeline of the Fraser River and examine the ways that human decisions and actions have changed the river over time.

Time Immemorial

Since time immemorial, the Fraser River has been a source of life for the many First Nations that live within the Watershed, providing the resources needed to survive and a way to connect with one another. Archaeological evidence shows that First Nations have lived in British Columbia for at least 10,000 years, and in the Fraser River Watershed for over 8,000 years.


In July 1774, Spanish navigator Juan Perez lands on Langara Island in the Haida territory. This is the first-ever recorded encounter between Europeans and First Nations in the land that is today known as British Columbia. Soon after, other European settlers began to arrive. These colonists were eager to explore this new land and find ways to profit from the abundant natural resources.

Late 1700s-Early 1800s

After 1793, fur traders for the North West Company pushed the Fur Trade into British Columbia. European traders traded with First Nations people, exchanging various metal goods for highly sought-after furs. The Fur Trade had large cultural, economic, and pathological effects on the First Nations people, and impacted the biodiversity around the Fraser River.

In 1808, Simon Fraser, a colonist and fur trader, sets off to explore the river that will later be named after him. Fraser and his group began their journey near Prince George, traveling down the river to the Salish Sea on a grueling 832 km expedition, hoping to discover a new transportation route to the Pacific.

Mid-late 1800s

Gold is discovered in the Fraser River Basin. Following this discovery, over 30,000 people from around the world moved to British Columbia, seeking to become successful gold miners. This new economic force, the Gold Rush, resulted in many gold mines, roads, and towns being built. It also resulted in more conflict between aspiring gold miners and Indigenous communities, which culminated in the Canyon War.


More and more people move to British Columbia, continuing to displace Indigenous people and limiting their ability to practice their spiritual and cultural traditions. Roads and buildings were constructed as cities grew; industry expanded alongside urbanization, with the volume of timber, mining, farming, and paper milling industries increasing throughout the watershed. Resources were extracted from the river and adjoining watershed, to the detriment of the surrounding environment.


Pollution, habitat destruction, and resource depletion are problems that are still affecting the Fraser River today. Fortunately, we are learning more everyday about how our actions can help the river instead of harming it. The combination of Indigenous knowledge and Western science offers solutions to the conservation issues affecting the region. Individuals, governments, First Nations, and organizations are working together to create strategies that will protect and restore the Fraser River to transform it into a healthier place for people and wildlife to live for generations to come.

Knowledge Check:

What were some historical human decisions and actions that resulted in changes to the Fraser River over time?
Check all that apply.
The arrival of European colonists and how natural resources were collected and used by this group.
The Fraser River was used as a transportation route to the Pacific.
Biodiversity around the Fraser River was affected by the Fur Trade.
Gold extraction techniques filtered the river and improved water quality.
Pollution, habitat destruction, and landscape alterations were some ways that the Gold Rush impacted the Fraser.
Urbanization decreased the overall environmental impacts on the Fraser Watershed, as populations were concentrated into cities and developed areas.
Pollution, habitat destruction, and resource depletion are historical problems that no longer affect the Fraser River today.
The application of Indigenous Knowledge and Western science is used as a roadmap to transform the Fraser into a resilient watershed.
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Teacher’s Guide

Teacher’s Guide – Salmon Fry (best suited for elementary school students)

Teacher’s Guide – Salmon (best suited for high school students & older)


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Additional Resources – Salmon Fry (best suited for elementary school students)

Additional Resources – Salmon (best suited for high school students and older)

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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This Golden Paw Print means that this is information that can help make your migration journey successful in the Watershed Defender section.