The Legitimacy of the Narrative

by Zbigniew

Simon Fraser

It reads as follows:

Simon Fraser (1776 – 1862) was a fur trader working for the North West Company; the rival of the Hudson Bay Company. The North West Company sought to control the rich and untapped fur supply of the west by establishing trading posts in central and northern B.C. and to find a viable route to the Pacific.

Starting on May 28, 1808, Simon Fraser became the first fur trader to explore the river that would one day bear his name. He set off from Fort George (now Prince George) in four birch bark canoes with his clerks John Stuart and Jules Quesnel, nineteen voyageurs and two First nations interpreters.

Along the way, Fraser and his men met many First Nations people; sharing food, trading goods, exchanging gifts and listening to their expert knowledge. They urged other routes on Fraser, “But going towards the sea by an indirect way was not the object of the undertaking,” Fraser wrote. “I will therefore not deviate.”

But the Fraser River – “is terrible to behold the rapidity and turbulence.” he (sic) wrote. “The rocks are amazing high and craggy … whirlpools and eddies surpass any thing of the kind that I ever saw before.”

Fraser and his men were frequently forced to portage, risking the hanging walkways, spindly scaffolds and dangling ladders built by the local First nations to traverse the steepest cliffs of the Fraser Canyon.

In the fertile Fraser Valley, Fraser and his men encountered the Musqueam people. The day before he reached his goal, he noted, “We arrived at a large village … the chief invited us to his house and served us with fish and berries … the chief consented to lend us his large canoe ….”

On July 2, 1808, Fraser wrote, “We came to a place where the river divides [now New Westminster] into several channels. Seeing a canoe following us, we waited for its arrival. One Indian of that canoe embarked with us and conducted us into the right channel. At last we came in sight of a bay of the sea.”

From the north arm of the Fraser River he could see the open Straight of Georgia beyond. Fraser had fulfilled his quest but the route he discovered to the Pacific was too difficult to serve the North West Company’s commercial needs.

Yet Simon Fraser’s historic adventure was a triumph of spirit and exploration. He challenged the dangerous river traveling more than 900 kilometres in 36 days. Amazingly, his entire crew survived the expedition. Fraser’s discoveries mark the beginnings of modern British Columbia with the Fraser River as a vital commercial hub and transportation corridor for our region.

Perhaps Simon Fraser, seen here in deep thought, is contemplating the incredible changes his journey of exploration set in motion. This evocative sculpture is the work of noted British Columbia artist Ken Lum.

Marine Gateway

Simon Fraser - Ken Lum

Stó:lõ -Halq’eméylem for “river people”

S’olh Temexw is the traditional territory of the Stó:lō people.  According to our swxoxwiyam, we have lived here since time immemorial.  The Stó:lō traditional territory extends from Yale to Langley, BC.”

Stó:lõ Nation

“Respected Stó:lõ family historians (ská:sls, or ‘those that keep track of everything”) strive to document for their audiences exactly how they came to know what they know, and how they have preserved what they know unadulterated from those from whom they learned it. Sloppy or questionable oral footnoting calls into question the legitimacy of the narrative itself, the worthiness of the historian and, by extension, the status of the historian’s family. Indeed, information collected among neighbouring communities indicates that it is a Coast Salish belief that to intentionally modify or alter ancient historical narratives will actually result in physical harm coming to members of the listening audience.”

A Stó:lõ-Coast Salish Historical Atlas, “Introduction,” Keith Thor Carlson

“[Charles] Borden’s regional chronology for the Lower Fraser Delta was organized around the larger distinction between prehistory and history, the boundary separating them coinciding with the arrival of the North West Company explorer Simon Fraser to the Fraser River in 1808. Aboriginal people also use the period of first European exploration –‘the coming of the white man’- as an organizing principle in their histories. But this is less to cite by date a specific turning point than it is to refer to the larger and ongoing processes of colonization. In fact, Musqueam oral tradition regarding the community’s encounter with the explorer highlights Fraser’s theft of a canoe from an upriver village.”

These Mysterious People: Shaping History and Archaeology in a Northwest Community, Susan Roy

“Consequently, when they arrived at Musqueam they were considered enemies. Villagers ran to fetch their warriors. Curiosity overcoming caution Fraser went ashore to examine a huge community house 457 metres in length. Warned to return to their canoe, they found it abandoned high and dry by the ebbing tide. Their armed Kwantlen pursuers, seeing the group’s predicament, closed in, joined by the Musqueam warriors who “began to make their appearance from every direction howling like so many wolves, brandishing their war clubs.” The crew desperately dragged their canoe to deep water, threatening their opponents with their firearms. Unable to continue they were forced to turn back up the river. “

Greater Vancouver Book, “Simon Fraser – Explorer,” Barbara Rogers

“He knew he was at the Straight of Georgia from Vancouver’s map, and wanted to continue to what he called ‘the main ocean’ but, feeling threatened, decided against it.”

British Columbia, A New Historical Atlas, “A River Not the Columbia,” Derek Hayes

Simon Fraser verso