Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chilliwack and First Contact 1808 - 1839


In 1839, a new venture was about to unfold at the eastern end of Chilliwack mountain on the banks of the  Fraser river - the first white settler structure in the area. How did this come about?

Fraser river close to 1839 landing area

Chilliwack was a far different place then. A shallow lake existed between Vedder and Sumas mountains and the Chilliwack River ran north from its present day location through Sardis and Chilliwack to meet the Fraser.  There were plenty of side creeks and rivers of all sizes and that was good.

Significant transportation back in 1839 was largely achieved by boat so having a choice of waterways was excellent.

Simon Fraser, the river's namesake, explored the Fraser in1808 trying to find the Columbia River. He must have been more than a little disappointed when he meets the Salish Sea considerably north of the Columbia river mouth.

His trip into Chilliwack area was noted June 1808,

"Here we saw seals, a large river coming in from the left and a round Mountain (a head) which the natives call "Shemotch (Sumas Mountain)". After sunset we encamped upon the right side of the river. At this place the trees are remarkably large, cedars of five fathoms in circumference and of proportional heights. Musketoes are in clouds and we had little or nothing to eat. The Natives always gave us plenty of provisions in their villages, but nothing to carry away. Numbers of them followed us, but they were as destitute of provisions as ourselves. And though they were a great distance from home they carried no arms about them. This conduct appeared that they had great confidence in our goodness or in their own numbers."

For local Stó:lō people the Fraser river blessed them with a bounty of fish including the mighty salmon. It also brought explorers like Simon Fraser and traders. Other times it provided unwanted access from warring tribes. Harassed, slaughtered and enslaved by marauding bands from Vancouver Island the less war-like aboriginal people of Chilliwack were kept in a state of anxiety.

The journals of the Hudson's Bay Trading Post at Fort Langley established in 1827 often mention raiding parties going up the river to attack the "Chilliwhacks" and the aftermath effects.

"This warfare keeps the Indians of this vicinity in such continual alarm, that they cannot turn their attention to any thing but the care of their families and that they do poorly. While the powerful tribes from Vancouver Island harass them in this manner little hunting can be expected from them. And unless the company supports them against those lawless Villains little exertion can be expected from them."

A river battle ensued in 1837 when a thousand Yucultas (Campbell River) paddled up the Fraser on their way to attack Chilliwack's Stó:lō people. The cannons of Fort Langley boomed for the first and last time and the help of the Kwantlen tribe the Yuculta raiders were destroyed never to return in force.

In 1839 a repositioning of the objectives of the Fort Langley trading post in the offing. Instead of fur trading, which was in their opinion surprisingly poor, the new focus turned to cranberries, food and fish (pickled salmon) for world trade. It was decided that a "saltery" should be built in Chilliwack.  So, at the eastern base of Chilliwack Mountain the first structure built by white people and, likely a few Hawaiians and other Pacific Island people, was erected to take advantage of the rich annual salmon runs.

I had hoped to see some remains on my recent trip, but 176 years is a long time in a rain forest. It was apparently built near a rock in the river that had been used as a gathering place. This we found. On the day I visited, this rock was slowly being submerged by a Fraser River in its annual spring freshet. I hope to revisit the area again once the waters recede.

This is the beginning of white settlement in Chilliwack, not very glamorous and sadly overlooked by the historical society. Still from this humble beginning stems all that would follow, my arrival here included.

Some 180 years later and my how Chilliwack has grown!  Since lots of good years ahead in this thriving community.

Imagine living here...


Stephen Mullock
is an award winning full-time real estate specialist with 30 years of experience and hundreds of sales. Thinking of buying or selling real estate in the Fraser Cheam communities of Chilliwack, Agassiz or Harrison Hot Springs? Contact Steve (click here) of Royal LePage Wheeler Cheam Realty for experience, local knowledge and friendly service you’ll be happy you did.

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