History of Lillooet
It’s British Columbia’s best-kept secret. Located on the Fraser River, Lillooet is 325 kilometers north of Vancouver and 140 kilometers east of Whistler. Spectacular scenery, wildlife, and history are within easy driving distance of Vancouver, Whistler, Kamloops, and the Fraser Valley – visit for the day, stay for a weekend, or explore a while longer.
Lillooet is steeped in history and culture. The St’át’imc people have lived here for thousands of years. The St’át’imc way of life is inseparably connected to the land. The tribes migrated throughout the territory from season to season, planning trips to locations based on the best times to hunt, to fish and to gather food and medicine. The fishing rocks just north of Lillooet, at the confluence of the Bridge River are on of the richest fisheries along the Fraser River. St'wan (dried salmon) was a prized trading item and brought traders from other nations to the area. During the winter, the St’át’imc people lived in pit homes in villages across the terroritory. Most significant is the village site at Keatley creek where an estimated 1,000 people lived at the peak population (approx 700 A.D.).
In the Spring of 1808, Simon Fraser was the first European explorer to visit the area. He traded a metal file and a kettle for dried salmon and a canoe. After this first contact, trading continued and the Hudson Bay Company had established a permanent trading post by the 1830's. Among the traded ware were hand tools to collect placer gold along the Fraser River watershed. Initially, the gold collected was transported back to Fort Kamloops, but in 1857 the Hudson Bay Company send a shipment of gold down to the San Francisco mint and with that word got out and the stamped was on. Where the gold rush of 1849 in California was losing steam, prospectors flocked north in large numbers.
1860 was the height of the Gold Rush, and Lillooet with a population of more than 15,000, became the second largest populated North American centre west of Chicago – falling just behind San Francisco. While the town of Lillooet itself was small, nearby Parsonsville, Marysville, and Cayoose Flats became shantytowns and tent cities full of people desperate to find their fortune in the mud, rock, and gravel of the Fraser River and its tributaries.
Remnants of the gold rush remain in the river rock along the banks of the Fraser, in Lillooet’s museum, and along Main Street. To this day, veins can still be found along the Fraser River – all you need is a gold pan and some time on the riverbank.
The impact of the gold rush was substantial to the land, the river and the St’át’imc people. Lillooet remained an important trading and supply point for miners heading to the fields north after the gold rush in the area faded. Lillooet became Mile 0 of the Old Cariboo Wagon Trail, Lillooet which stretched 339 kilometers nortward to Alexandria. In 1864, the shorter Cariboo Road which connected Yale to Barkerville via Ashcroft bypassed Lillooet.