Lillooet, British Columbia Canada

Discover Lillooet, British Columbia: A Rich Blend of History and Natural Beauty

Lillooet, a district municipality in the Squamish-Lillooet region of southwestern British Columbia, is a hidden gem nestled on the west shore of the Fraser River. This charming town, located on BC Highway 99, is approximately 100 kilometres northeast of Pemberton, 64 kilometres northwest of Lytton, and 172 kilometres west of Kamloops.

The First Nations Heritage of Lillooet, British Columbia

Lillooet is a significant population centre of the Stʼatʼimc (Lillooet Nation), with indigenous people forming over 50 per cent of the area's residents. This makes it one of the southernmost communities in North America where indigenous people form the majority. The land is considered traditional territory, having been continuously inhabited for thousands of years. The confluence of several main streams with the Fraser attracted large seasonal and permanent indigenous populations. The Bridge River Rapids (Sat' or Setl), a popular fishing and fish drying site for centuries, is located in the Lower Fountain. The Keatley Creek Archaeological Site, one of the largest ancient pit-house communities in the Pacific Northwest, is one of the many archaeological and heritage sites in the vicinity. Several petroglyph sites have also been documented along the Fraser in the vicinity of Lillooet.

The Origin of the Name "Lillooet, British Columbia"

The First Nations name of Pap-shil-KWA-KA-meen translates as the "place where the three rivers meet". The former European name of Cayoosh Flat inferred a dead or dying Cayuse horse (namely a decrepit specimen) at the river. In 1859, Governor Douglas granted a petition to change the name to Lillooet, which means "wild onion". The Lil'wat people lived on the Douglas Road, a.k.a. the Lakes Route, which was the main trail from the south. This name appears on Anderson's 1849 map.

Roads, Ferries, and Bridges in Lillooet, British Columbia

Lillooet served as a terminus for the Douglas Road, a portage-intensive route used by fortune seekers during the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush and the Cariboo Gold Rush. Across the Fraser, Parsonville was "Mile 0" of the Old Cariboo Road, which stretched about 339 kilometres northward to Alexandria. The Fraser was crossed by ferry at Lillooet. In 1889, the first bridge at Lillooet opened, and Lillooet became "Mile 0". In 1994, fire destroyed the station bridge over the Seton River. In 2020, a two-lane structure replaced the temporary single lane bridge installed in 1994.

Mining History of Lillooet, British Columbia

The section of Main Street north from the cairn was called "the Golden Mile", reflecting the goldrush traffic. West of Lillooet, the Golden Cache Mine on Cayoosh Creek, was staked in 1895. However, promising expectations proved illusive, which ended further investment. The associated prospecting boom ceased by 1900, when mining activity relocated to the Klondike. Other gold prospecting in the area included underground hard-rock mining in the Bridge River Country, which began in the 1880s and 1890s, but peaked from the 1930s to the 1950s. Gold Bridge and Bralorne were mining centres. Prospecting for gold continues and to a lesser extent for copper, silver and nephrite jade. Until the discovery of larger jade deposits near Cassiar, the Lillooet area was the world's largest source of the nephrite form.

The Railway History of Lillooet, British Columbia

The northward advance of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (PGE) rail head reached the head of Seton Lake in January 1915 and the Lillooet locality the following month. PGE built a depot between the Seton River and Cayoosh Creek. That month, the first passenger train arrived, triggering a revival for the isolated town, since a railway could ship agricultural produce. By year end, the track reached Clinton, an additional 72 kilometres. The withdrawal of the Cariboo Prospector passenger train in October 2002 ended through service. Canadian National Railway freight trains on break and the Kaoham Shuttle still use the station.

Early Community Life in Lillooet, British Columbia

The town began as a goldrush centre in the late 1850s, booming during the progression of discoveries on the Fraser and in the Cariboo in the early 1860s. The title of "the largest town west of Chicago and north of San Francisco" moved in rapid succession from Yale to Lillooet, and then to Barkerville. Just after this gold rush, the town's layout was surveyed by the Royal Engineers. In 1860, the population was 4,000–5,000. About that time, Richard Hoey was granted 16 hectares on the Texas Creek Road. St. Mary the Virgin Anglican church was built in 1861 and a school established in 1863. That year, the hotels and shops served a population of about 1,600. The Stage Hotel (1860) was considered first class. The Pioneer Hotel (1862) became the Excelsior in the early 1900s. Further lodgings were the International Hotel (1866) and Victoria Hotel (1892). In 1864, Joseph Watkinson, Thomas Harris, F.W. Foster, and Richard Hoey built the first flour mill. In 1896, St. Andrews Presbyterian church was erected. In 1904, the town was surveyed. The 1930 fire destroyed the Excelsior, Hurley's Grocery, a movie theatre and the government liquor store. In 1946, the settlement incorporated as a village municipality. In 1948, fire destroyed the Log Cabin Theatre, an 1860s livery barn that had been remodelled into theatre in 1934. Booms occurred during local gold mining activity, and in the 1940s and 50s during the construction of the Bridge River Power Project. In 1996, the town re-incorporated as a district municipality.

Forestry and Agriculture in Lillooet, British Columbia

The economy was historically based upon logging, the railway, ranching, farming, and government services. The long growing season has favoured orchards, and in recent times, ginseng. Once, hop and tobacco crops supported the former local beer, cigar and chewing tobacco industries. The town has relied upon forestry since the mid-1970s. In the 1940s, an Italian named Savona planted vines in the Fountain area. Established in 2009, the Fort Berens Winery in East Lillooet was the first attempt at commercial viticulture. Visitors can taste the award-winning wines. The Cliff & George Vineyards, about 20 kilometres south on the west side of the Fraser, offers a similar opportunity as well as picnic areas on the historic Texas Creek Ranch near Texas Creek.

Japanese Internment Camps in Lillooet, British Columbia

Four internment camps existed in the Lillooet area during World War II, following the removal of Japanese Canadians from the British Columbia Coast in 1942. Each were "self-support" sites, where family groups who had the financial means could remain together, but the locations were more isolated than the camps in the Kootenays. Since internees were not permitted to return to the coast until 1949, many families permanently settled in Lillooet. The largest camp was East Lillooet, housing 309 people. The other nearby camps were at Shalalth, Minto Mine, and McGillvray Falls.

Later Community Developments in Lillooet, British Columbia

The town includes infrastructure typical for its size. In 2009, the district developed a community plan. In 2013, the water treatment plant received a $5.6 million upgrade. In 2019, Tourism Lillooet released a strategic plan. In 2022, an electric vehicle fast charging station opened. Police, fire, and ambulance, respectively operate emergency service bases. The Lillooet Hospital & Health Centre is a Level 1 Community Hospital which includes 24-hour emergency services. The district owns and operates the Lillooet Airport.

Demographics of Lillooet, British Columbia

In the 2021 Census of Population conducted by Statistics Canada, Lillooet had a population of 2,302 living in 1,111 of its 1,214 total private dwellings, a change of 1.2% from its 2016 population of 2,275. With a land area of 27.63 km2, it had a population density of 83.3/km2 in 2021. Lillooet's larger regional population includes that of the three large bands of the St'at'imc or Lillooet Nation whose reserves abut the town on all sides, and another three large reserves within 20 miles; 430 of the District of Lillooet's population are aboriginal. Historical populations have included large numbers of Americans and Chinese, although there are few of either today (although many longtime local families, First Nations and non-First Nations, have some bloodlines from both). The town's non-native population has been historically multi-ethnic in extraction, with a relatively high-rate of intermarriage between all groups.

Climate of Lillooet, British Columbia

Lillooet experiences a humid continental/oceanic climate, but it borders on a semi-arid climate. Situated at an intersection of deep gorges in the lee of the Coast Mountains, it has a dry climate with an average of 349.5 mm of precipitation being recorded annually. The locality often vies with Lytton and Osoyoos for the title of "Canada's Hot Spot" on a daily basis in summer. Lillooet holds the record for the fourth-hottest temperature recorded in British Columbia and Canada. On 29 June 2021, during the 2021 Western North America heat wave which brought unprecedented heat to the Pacific Northwest, the temperature reached 46.8 °C. Lillooet also holds the record for the hottest temperature recorded in the province during the months of April, May, and December. The coldest temperature recorded was measured at the airport during a November cold snap in 1985. With an average annual snowfall of 26.5 cm, Lillooet is the least snowy place in the BC Interior.