Located at the southern entrance to the spectacular Fraser Canyon, the town of Yale is one of southwestern British Columbia’s oldest and most historic communities, having been the bustling steamship navigation capital during the Gold Rush.
Founded as a Hudson’s Bay fort in 1848, Yale rose to prominence as the inland terminus of the Fraser River sternwheelers and a waystation for those travelling up and down the Fraser River.
Explorer Simon Fraser himself camped here in the summer of 1808, after his horrendous trip down the river that now bears his name.
Like many towns in British Columbia, Yale’s fortunes followed that of the Gold Rush. In 1858 gold was discovered on a gravel bar just 2 miles south of Yale on the Fraser River. This place was soon known as Hill’s Bar named after the prospector who found gold there. The discovery of gold caused a massive influx of people to pour into the region from all over the world, the majority of which came from the California Gold Rush of 1849. At the height of Gold Fever in 1858, this town boasted 20,000 residents.
In 1862 the government paid for a road that started in Yale and went for 400 miles to gold mining town called Barkerville. The narrow, steep, rocky road was called the Cariboo Wagon Road – today’s modern highway follows much of the old road. During the period of railway construction in the 1880’s Yale became the main supply centre for all the work in the Cascade Division of British Columbia. The railway that now passes right through the middle of Yale in front of the museum and church is the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Today the residents of Yale number only 200. Though the gold ran out, Yale continued prospering, as it still does today as a forestry and service centre.
Historic Yale is only a 15-minute drive north from Hope on the Trans-Canada Highway 1. The site is right beside the highway as it goes through Yale. Even if you’re going east via Highway 3, it’s a convenient side trip.
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An historic 1868 heritage home houses the Yale Museum, with exhibits and archives dating back to the times of the gold rush, the Cariboo Wagon Road and the railway construction.
Step into the past when you visit the Church of St. John the Divine, the oldest church in British Columbia, built in 1863 to serve the fortune seekers of the Gold Rush community.
Walking Tour: A guided walking tour of the historic town explores one of the west’s largest and most colourful Gold Rush towns. The original Fort Yale, founded in 1847, was located on Front Street, where monuments and plaques commemorating the Cariboo Wagon Road and Barnard’s Express are located. Down on the waterfront, look for the old rings embedded in the rocks to moor the old sternwheelers at the riverboat landing situated here between 1858 and 1885.
Yale Pioneer Cemetery: Meet the earliest residents and pioneers of Yale at the historic graveyard, located off Highway 1 south of town overlooking the banks of the Fraser River. Headstones at the pioneer cemetery date back to 1862.
Hiking: Hikers can head out on the 5-km Spirit Caves Trail for a three-hour hike with rewarding views of the Fraser River Canyon entrance and the Cascade Mountains. The Spirit Caves produce an eerie whistling sound when strong winds blow through the caves. The trailhead is located opposite the old Pioneer Cemetery on Highway 1. East of Yale, also on Highway 1, is the trailhead for the strenuous 5-km Mount Lincoln Trail, a steep trail leading to the summit of Mount Lincoln.
Hill’s Bar: Just south of Yale is Hill’s Bar, the site of the first gold discovery in British Columbia in 1858. Have a go at Gold Panning – there could still be gold in the area! Hill’s Bar is renowned for the rebellion triggered by a squabble between two local magistrates, over contempt of their respective official dignities, after an inebriated Hill’s Bar prospector assualted the local black barber. The conflict escalated and posed a threat to the newly-minted British authority on the British Columbia mainland. Governor Douglas mobilized his troops, backed up by Marines stationed at Fort Langley. Accompanying the Royal Engineers to Yale was Justice Matthew Baillie Begbie, who convened court, determined that the whole matter was overblown, and fined McGowan for assault. Both magistrates were dismissed from their posts, and the bloodless war became known as Ned McGowan’s War.
Between Yale and Boston Bar, to the north on the Trans Canada Highway, is one of the most spectacular sights in British Columbia: Hell’s Gate, a narrowing of the Fraser River where the water churns through in a tremendous maelstrom. It’s an awesome sight to behold, and certainly a “hellish” experience for the more than 2 million spawning salmon that must pass through this part of the Fraser River every year.
For a closer look at the fury of Hell’s Gate, ride the Hell’s Gate Airtram across to the other side of the river. Restaurants, gift shops and an interpretive centre await those daring enough to make the trip.
Golf: Golfers must head south to Hope for thee Hope Golf & Country Club, a semi-private, 9-hole golf course on Golf Course Road offering superb mountain views in all directions. 18 holes, par 72, 6,317 yards. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Historic Emory Creek Provincial Park has a small campground situated at the former townsite of Emory City, which was a tiny but bustling trading settlement in the mid-1800s. When the Canadian Pacific Railway decided that nearby Yale would be its major centre, Emory was left to ‘sigh and die.’ Conveniently located beside Hwy 1 and the Fraser River, 12 kilometres south of Yale, this park fills up quickly in summer. As with most B.C. provincial parks, this is an excellent area for hiking, mountain biking and camping.
Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park, about 22km north of Yale, provides an interesting place to stop in the Fraser Canyon. An interpretative display gives visitors an idea of the canyon’s history.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on a driving Circle Tour. Head north out of Vancouver for the scenic Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island Circle Tour, or stay on the intensely scenic Sea to Sky Highway, passing through the magical winter resort town of Whistler and Coast Mountains Circle Tour. To explore the rural farmlands and forests of the fertile Fraser Valley, take the Fraser Valley Circle Tour, travelling outbound on the scenic route north of the historic Fraser River, returning westwards along the Trans Canada Highway 1 to Vancouver. Circle Tours in British Columbia.