About the Basin
A River Runs Through It — The Mighty Fraser
High in the mountains of Mount Robson Provincial Park, ice melts, droplets trickle and streams emerge and expand. Soon a river takes shape, dramatic and powerful.
These are the headwaters of the mighty Fraser River, BC’s longest river, which travels 1,375 km from the Rocky mountains to meet the Pacific Ocean at the Strait of Georgia. On its way to the sea, it passes through five climatic zones — from alpine tundra and pine forests, to grasslands and desert-like canyons, through old growth rain forest and a fertile, lowland valley.
The Fraser carves an S-shape across British Columbia’s heartland, supported by a network of tributary rivers and streams. These carry fresh water critical to plants, animals and communities.
Among the Fraser’s major tributaries are the Nechako, Stuart and McGregor rivers near Prince George, the Quesnel and Blackwater near Quesnel, the Chilcotin south of Williams Lake and the Lillooet/Harrison near Chilliwack. The Thompson River, which drains Wells Gray, the Shuswap, Kamloops and Merritt areas, reaches the Fraser at Lytton. The river squeezes through the rugged Fraser Canyon and re-emerges as turbulent rapids around Hell's Gate towards Hope. On the last leg of its journey, it widens and flows serenely through the Fraser Valley floodplain to reach its world-renowned estuary. And finally, the "plume" of the Fraser River extends out across Georgia Strait to the Gulf Islands.
The Fraser River carries many names. The traditional names come from First Nations, such as Lhta Koh (a Dakelth word meaning the confluence of many rivers) and the Stó:lô (Halq'eméylem for river). David Thompson named it the Fraser to honour his North West Company colleague Simon Fraser, the first European to travel the river to its lower reaches, in 1808.
Fraser Basin Watersheds
The land drained by the Fraser River and its tributaries is known as the Fraser River Basin. It is BC's largest, and Canada’s fifth largest, watershed — 240,000 square km (roughly a quarter of the province). For a sense of the scale, consider that all of Great Britain, or most of California, could fit within it.
To look at the 12 major watersheds of the Fraser Basin, see Fraser Basin watersheds.
At Home in the Basin
The Fraser Basin is one of the world's most productive salmon river systems, supporting seven salmon species (Chinook, Sockeye, Coho, Chum, Pink, Steelhead and Cutthroat Trout) and many other species of fish, including sturgeon. The Fraser Basin supports a great diversity of wildlife. It is one of BC's most productive waterfowl breeding and overwintering areas, and a crucial staging area on the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds. The mouth of the River, in particular, is recognized as a globally significant estuary.
The Basin is also home to 3 million people, nearly two-thirds of all British Columbians. First Nations were the first to recognize its special nature and enjoy its bounty. Archeological evidence confirms oral traditions that the ancestors of First Nations people have lived beside the river since the vast glaciers started receding 10,000 years ago and the Fraser River, as we know it, was born.
In the past 200 years, people from all over the world have also come to call this area home. The Fraser Basin — with its diversity of people, culture, languages, natural beauty, resources, enterprises, tourism and recreation — is a very special place. Because it is so special, sustaining it for future generations is a responsibility everyone shares.