46 Degrees 20 Seconds

Fraser River
Fraser River (Photo credit: Tjflex2)

Simon Fraser’s journey down the mighty river in British Columbia that now bears his name was one of the most dangerous ever undertaken by man.

The Northwest Company wanted to extend its fur trading activities to the Pacific coast, but before this could be done, a route from the Peace River to the Pacific had to be found. Simon Fraser was to find it. He did not have the scientific training of Alexander Mackenzie, the first man to cross the continent, but he was a man of tenacious courage.

Accompanied by John Stuart, Jules Maurice Quesnel, nineteen voyageurs and two Indian guides, Fraser left Fort George on May 29, 1808. Down the muddy river, which he thought was the Columbia, they battled rapids and whirlpools, sometimes carrying their canoes down banks so steep that their lives hung by a thread. Near Pavilion, Fraser had the canoes placed on a scaffold, hid most of the supplies and continued on foot. At an Indian encampment (now Lytton), they were shown European goods which could only have come from the Pacific. Nearby, there was a beautiful river of clear blue water flowing into the main river, and Fraser called it the Thompson, after his fellow explorer David Thompson. Unknown to Fraser, Thompson himself was on the Columbia at that moment.

The journey down from Lytton was even more dangerous. Soon they had to abandon their cedar dugouts and scramble along the river banks. When they reached Black Canyon, one of the Indians climbed to the summit and pulled up the others with a rope hung from a long pole. They made their perilous way past Hell’s Gate, creeping above the precipices by hanging onto ropes fastened to trees. In this way they crawled to what is now Spuzzum and Yale!

Near Mount Baker, fierce Cowichan Indians tried to block their way but were kept off through fear of the guns Fraser and his men had managed to carry. On July 2 they reached the Indian village of Musqueam. They were only a few miles from the Pacific and could see the mountains of Vancouver Island. Fraser took a reading for latitude, and he had been on the Columbia, as he thought, it would have been 46 degrees 20 seconds. Fraser came so close, but he never saw the Pacific.

A tired, discouraged man returned to Fort George on August 5.

If you would like to learn more about today’s post, I suggest going to The United Empire Loyalists‘ Association of Canada, Vancouver Branch to read Simon Fraser, Loyalist son and explorer of British Columbia. Then there’s Project Gutenberg.ca to read the Simon Fraser e-book by Denton, Vernon Llewllyn in 1928. To enjoy paintings of Hellsgate Canyon, you must visit Peterewart.com. And lastly, I suggest reading Nicholas Doe‘s Simon Fraser’s Latitudes – very interesting!


  1. Fraser and Thompson river where they meet is Hell’s Gate. Not to worry, Hope is just around the bend. And the joke is: There is no Hope in Hell. Good read, Tk. 😛


  2. My goodness, that’s an exciting story! This is what they should make movies about! I’m glad someone wrote a book. Wow! Lives hanging by a thread. I’m amazed at the determination to see this journey through, though it ended in disappointment.


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