Caring for a Great Resource
Source: Mount Robson Provincial Park in central British Columbia
Mouth: Strait of Georgia at Vancouver, British Columbia
Direction of flow: southwest
Length : 1,325 kilometres
Main Characteristic: a resource in need of rescue.
The Fraser River is the most important natural artery of British Columbia,
Canada’s fastest-growing province. Protected from industrial settlement by the
barrier of Rocky Mountains, the valleys of the Fraser and its tributaries were,
until just 100 years ago, rich in uncut forests and pristine spawning beds for
millions of salmon.
The punching through of the railway from eastern Canada to the mouth of the
Fraser River in 1885 suddenly made Vancouver an important port on the Pacific
Ocean. By railway and by ship, first as a trickle and then in a flood, people
arrived in British Columbia to spread through the valley of the Fraser and its
A massive power development at Churchill Falls on the Churchill River flooded
Innu hunting grounds and sacred sites. Pollution poisoned the fish they depended
upon. It was the death of the Natives’ sense of identity as self-sufficient
survivors in a difficult land.
Residents of the river’s upland gorges and broad lower floodplain enjoy the
country’s warmest climate, most vigorous economy, and the benefits of year-round
hiking, biking, sailing, fishing, and rollerblading.
Because British Columbia is such a prosperous and attractive place to live,
the Fraser’s health is menaced by rampant development. More than three-quarters
of all economic activity in British Columbia takes place on land drained by
the river and its tributaries. The economic activity includes home construction,
farming, mining, logging, paper making, and fishing. Each of these industries
must be managed sensitively if the quality of the ecosystem is to be maintained
and, where necessary, restored.
Homes, schools, and industries encroach upon the river environment. Biologically-rich
riverside wetlands are replaced by concrete retaining walls. In too many places,
the Fraser’s banks are littered with trash.
At the same time, profits and jobs that depend on agriculture, tree-cutting,
and mining are gaining at the expense of river life. Runoff from rainwater,
once pure and clear, picks up silt and debris from forest cutting. Water from
pulp mills and mines poison the river with chemicals. Runoff from farms pollutes
it with manure, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides.
Rapid development of the Fraser’s natural floodplain is increasing the potential
for human disaster. The basin is prone to flooding in years of rapid snowmelt
in the mountains.
Excessive fishing is threatening survival of the river’s status as a great
salmon river. Silt is washed from logging areas to clog gravel beds needed for
salmon spawning. Survival of the Fraser River salmon has become the focal point
of arguments over resource use, sustainable development, and ecological stewardship.
Because of the obvious threat to the health of the Fraser, British Columbians
have become Canada’s most active river stewards. Loggers, fishers, Native peoples,
students, and environmentalists do not always agree on what to do, but most
acknowledge the need to restore the Fraser to its natural integrity.
Fraser River (Adobe PDF document)
of Canada (All pages in a zipped file)