Geographical and Historical Background

The Fraser River located in the Province of British Columbia, Canada rises on the western slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, near the border with Alberta. At 850 miles in length, the Fraser is BC’s longest river, where it flows northwesterly before turning south near Prince George, and then down the center of the province to the Pacific Ocean (Strait of Georgia), near the city of New Westminster. As part of the modern history of Canada, Simon Fraser coming over land from the Atlantic coast was the first successful explorer of the Fraser River from its headwaters down to the Pacific Coast in 1808. The river bears his name. This event was the beginning of a gradual modern development of the land area, now called British Columbia.

Historically, the Fraser River was considered one of the world’s greatest salmon resources. Tens of millions of Pacific salmon returned annually to spawn in the main stem Fraser River and tributaries that include all six species of salmon, Sockeye, Pink, Chum, Chinook, Coho and Steelhead. Some salmon, which migrate upriver to spawn in northern tributaries, swim as far as 1000 miles from the ocean to the gravel beds where they were born, to complete their life cycle. The Native Indian population on the northern Pacific Coast has for centuries relied on the returning salmon as part of their sustenance. European settlers who arrived on the Pacific Coast in the late 1700 recognized the salmon as a valuable resource and soon developed extensive commercial fisheries, built canneries and exported their products throughout the world. By late 1800, the total commercial harvest by American & Canadian fishermen and Indian subsistence caches amounted to 50-80% of the salmon returning to spawning grounds of the mighty Fraser River.

Sockeye Adults
Sockeye Alevins
Sockeye Smolts
Sockeye Eggs
Click on images to enlarge
The Fraser River Canyon, as part of the Fraser River, is noted for its spectacular beauty, consisting of a deep rocky trench between the inland Cascade Mountain Range and Canada's Pacific Coast. It runs almost due south geographically and in a straight line for 47 miles from Lytton down to the town of Yale located about 100 miles north of Vancouver. The river gradient drops 280 feet between Lytton and Yale, with swift and turbulent water flow in numerous places. The swiftest and most turbulent part of the river is the section through the geological formation known as Hell's Gate. At this location, the river becomes a white-water torrent, as it flows past rock walls barely 100 feet apart at the narrowest section at low stage. Through this narrow gorge, the runoff from almost 90,000 square miles of drainage has to pass. The Fraser River watershed is about 25 % of the total land area of British Columbia. Depending on seasonal flow the variation in water levels at Hell’s Gate, between extreme low and high has been recorded at 111 feet and the corresponding minimum and maximum flows, 12,000 and 537,000 cubic feet per second respectively.
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