History of Quesnel

Museum and Heritage

The Aboriginal people who inhabited the north-central area of British Columbia called themselves 'Uda ukelh' which means "People who travel by boat on water early in the morning." They are more commonly known as the Carrier. This is an English translation of the name applied to them by the neighbouring Sekani people. An extensive history of the Dakelh/Carrier people can be found on the Footprints in Stone website, developed with the assistance of the Southern Carrier Nations.  The first European to encounter this Native group was Alexander Mackenzie, who traversed their territory en route to the Pacific in 1793. He first learned about them from the Sekani, and employed the term Carrier in his writings.

In 1808 Simon Fraser explored what is now known as the Fraser River and named a major tributary  for Jules Maurice Quesnel, his clerk.  The community that grew at the confluence of the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers eventually became known as Quesnel.

The Gold Rush started with the discovery of gold on the Fraser River in 1857 and had reached the Quesnel River by 1859.  Major strikes in 1861 on Williams Creek in what is now known as Barkerville lead to a population boom, with Quesnel a major stop over and supply centre for the gold fields.

Quesnel continued to play a role as a supply centre for northern exploration, resource extraction, and settlement as the northern terminus of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway from 1921-1952.  The forestry industry expanded during WWII when the Quesnel area became a major supplier of birch used to manufacture plywood to build the Mosquito Bomber.  Forestry continued to grow with expanded transportation networks, increased demand from the United States, and development of pulp and plywood products.  By 1952 there were 180 sawmills and 5 planer mills within a 30 mile radius of Quesnel.  As the decade progressed the number of mills declined as operations were consolidated into larger companies.

A bridge spanning the Fraser River was constructed in 1929. This resulted in the growth of the community on the west bank of the river. The village of Quesnel and West Quesnel amalgamated in 1955 and achieved town status in 1958. The municipality gained greater powers to borrow and finance local infrastructure projects, including paved streets and electric street lights, a new water system, a municipal hall and arena. Provincial initiatives included a natural gas line, consolidated high schools with improved facilities and the GR Baker Memorial Hospital.

The community continued to grow and in 1979 became a City. Today, forestry continues to be the leading industry while agriculture, mining, and tourism are also important parts of Quesnel’s economy. 

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