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The Lower Fraser Canyon, British Columbia

By John Jennings
 

According to Wikipedia the Fraser Canyon is “an 84 km landform of the Fraser River where it descends rapidly through narrow rock gorges in the Coast Mountains en route from the Interior Plateau of British Columbia to the Fraser Valley.”  For Suzan and I it is a beautiful place to drive through enroute to the interior of BC.The Fraser Canyon starts after approximately a two hour drive east of Vancouver, and in my opinion it starts with the municipality of Hope.  At Hope you leave the freeway and move onto the traditional Highway #1 and the beginning of the gateway of the Fraser River Canyon.


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The gateway to BC’s interior, Hope is at the junction of four major highways (1, 3, 5 and 7) and was once a fur trade and gold rush town but now celebrates its connection with forestry and wildlife. Hope has become known as the “Chainsaw Carving Capital” with 20 giant wooden sculptures scattered around town.

Wood Carving Hope

Wood Carving Hope

Highway 1 follows the Fraser River through the Canyon. The Fraser Canyon has served as a key transportation route since the late 1850’s when thousands were chasing gold using boats and pack horses in a rush that would end in Barkerville, hundreds of miles and many days away in what is now Central BC.

Just north of Hope the broad Fraser Valley narrows to a deep, constricted canyon that hosts both of Canada’s national railroads (Canadian Pacific and Canadian National), the Trans Canada  highway #1 and the drainage river of over half of the Province of British Columbia.

The drive is stunning, with steep rock faces of the Cascade Range on both sides, split with numerous high waterfalls.  As the canyon narrows even more, we reached the hamlet of Yale, which, 160 years ago, was the furthest that steamships could reach from the coast.

Canyon at Hells Gate

Canyon at Hells Gate

As we looked around this very narrow bench it was hard to believe that in 1858, during the gold rush to Barkerville, there were 10,000 people in this staging area that is now a small village crammed between the river and cliff face.

We decided to check out the excellent Yale Historic Museum and St. John the Divine Church to learn what life was like 160 years ago. Information on Yale may be seen at http://historicyale.ca and it is definitely worthwhile to spend time exploring.  After some history we took the town walking tour starting at the Yale Museum and visited St. John the Divine Anglican Church, the Cariboo Wagon Road and National Historic Sites monument to the Chinese Railway Workers.

Historic Yale Sign

Historic Yale Sign

As we drive up-river toward our next major point of interest, we enter the first of seven tunnels bored into the Coast Mountains to take the highway through the rugged canyon when this road was upgraded as the Trans Canada Highway in 1957-64.  The tunnels are named after the adjacent geographic locations, for example: Yale, Saddle Rock, Sailor Bar and Hells Gate.

Tunnel Fraser Canyon Hwy 1

Tunnel Fraser Canyon Hwy 1

A few kilometres northward the highway takes us across to the south side of the Fraser River, we were heading to a well known major feature of the Canyon and our next part of the journey, Hell’s Gate the subject of my next blog. Whenever I drive this stretch I always recall a quip from a teacher uttered long ago—“Hell’s Gate is beyond Hope”.

John Jennings

About the Author

Born in Edmonton Alberta, John is a graduate of BC Institute of Technology in Hospitality Management and has enjoyed a successful 45 year career in Management of Hotels, Restaurants and Tourism Destination Organizations in Canada and the UK and was the recipient of the William Van Horne Visionary Award for designing the coveted ‘SuperHost’ (now World Host) Program while with Expo ’86, where he travelled around North America speaking to all business opportunities. John is co-author of “Paralyzed without Warning”, is now semi-retired, performing occasional tourism & hospitality contracts and enjoys living on Vancouver Island with his wife Suzan and their SPCA rescue dog Lady.

 

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