About the Fraser Basin Watersheds
Photo Credit: Photos are courtesy of Picture BC
The Fraser River begins its journey of nearly 1,400 km in Mount Robson Provincial Park.
In this Upper Fraser region, the river passes by Valemount and McBride as it heads northwest through the Rocky Mountain Trench. It then turns south to Prince George. Major tributaries in the Upper Fraser watershed include the McGregor River (known for the McGregor model forest where research is done on sustainable logging), the Salmon River north of Prince George, and Bowron River and Lake (renowned for its 116 km chain of eleven lakes, rivers and portages). Bowron Lake is named after John Bowron, one of the Overlanders of 1862 who came for the gold rush and stayed on as postmaster and government agent in Barkerville.
The Quesnel River (named after NWC fur trader Jules-Maurice Quesnel) drains Quesnel Lake (264 sq km) by flowing northwest from between Bowron Lake and Wells Gray Provincial Park to meet the Fraser at Quesnel.
The West Road River (227 km) rises in the Ilgachuz Range near Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and flows east to its confluence with the Fraser River between Prince George and Quesnel. Also known as the Blackwater River, the West Road formed part of the "Grease Trail " network used by First Nations as a trading route to the interior from the coast. Alexander Mackenzie named it West Road (as he was heading West to the Pacific). Because of its black colour, it also was called Blackwater.
The Lillooet River (from an anglicized Lillooet word referring to the area around the Mount Currie Reserve) originates with meltwater from the Lillooet Glacier high in the Coast Mountains north of Vancouver. The Lillooet flows south and east past the towns of Pemberton and Mount Currie to the north end of Harrison Lake — the largest lake in the Fraser Valley — that drains by way of the Harrison River 18 km to the Fraser. The Lake is named after Benjamin Harrison, a director of the Hudson's Bay Company. The watershed also includes the Chehalis River that enters the Fraser just west of the Harrison.
The Lower Fraser watershed is the most densely populated watershed in the entire Fraser River system. It extends from Hope to the mouth of river. All communities in the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver Regional Districts are located in this watershed.
Historically, this portion of the river faced spring floods, spreading fertile silt across the valley floor and rejuvenating the wetlands that supported abundant wildlife. Today, much of the land in the Fraser Valley, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, Richmond and Delta lies behind 600 km of dikes.
The Chilliwack River (named after the local First Nation people) flows 100 km from Chilliwack Lake through the Skagit Range of the Cascade Mountains to join the Sumas River shortly before it merges with the Fraser River west of Chilliwack. The lower portion of the river was named the Vedder River/Canal (after an early Dutch settler) when it was re-routed as part of the Sumas Reclamation Scheme. In 1922, this project drained Sumas Lake to create new agricultural land called Sumas Prairie.
The Lower Fraser watershed has a number of smaller watersheds. Stave Lake and River drain into the Fraser between Maple Ridge and Mission. Alouette Lake and River flow into the Pitt River. The Pitt River, probably named for British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, drains south from Garibaldi Provincial Park through Pitt Lake, emptying into the Fraser River between Pitt Meadows and Port Coquitlam.
Coquitlam Lake drains via the Coquitlam River to empty into the Fraser River just east of the Port Mann Bridge. The name is derived from "Kwikwetl'em," the local First Nation. The Brunette River drains Burnaby Lake and Still Creek to join the Fraser at Coquitlam. The Fraser River splits at New Westminster into the North Arm and South Arm, with Vancouver and Burnaby to the north, Surrey and Delta to the south and Richmond in the middle.
Historically there were dozens of streams that criss-crossed the forested wetland that became Greater Vancouver. Most of these waterways have been altered or lost through development and city expansion. One of Vancouver's few remaining streams (and only salmon-bearing stream) is Musqueam Creek, which flows through Musqueam Park and the Musqueam Indian Reserve just below UBC.
There are other waterways in the lower Fraser region that are not part of the Fraser River system. These include the Nicomekl and Serpentine Rivers in Surrey/Langley, and Seymour Creek, Lynn Creek and the Capilano River in North and West Vancouver.