Skeena River, 580 km long, rises in the northern interior of BC and flows generally SW, draining about 54 000 km2, to meet the Pacific Ocean at Chatham Sound south of Prince Rupert. The second-largest river (after the Fraser River) entirely within BC, its main tributaries are the Bulkley and Babine rivers. It was called K-shian ("water of the clouds") by the Tsimshian ("people at the mouth of the K-shian") and Gitksan ("people who live up the K-shian"), and has always played an important role in the lives of the Indigenous people.
Non-Indigenous influence is relatively recent. Because of strong Indigenous control of the lower river, the first non-Indigenous penetration of the Skeena watershed was from the E, when the HBC established posts on Babine and Bear lakes (1822, 1826). In 1859 a reconnaissance for a transcontinental railway was made up the Skeena as far as the Bulkley R. 1871 saw a gold rush up the Skeena to the Omineca goldfields; some good strikes were made on the Skeena itself. With the establishment of Port Essington near the mouth, and Hazelton at the head of navigation at the Bulkley confluence, freight traffic on the Skeena developed rapidly.
From 1880 the HBC used the Skeena route to supply its inland posts. Salmon fishing became an important activity, as it is today. By the 1890s there were 7 canneries in the Skeena estuary. Interest in the agricultural potential of the Skeena below Hazelton grew next, and the provincial government encouraged settlement.
The Skeena provides Canada's only practical alternative rail and road outlet to the Pacific besides the Fraser. In 1914 the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (now CN) was completed from Hazelton to the coast, terminating at Prince Rupert. Following WWII the valley was reached by the Yellowhead Highway. The town of Terrace is a regional centre today for the lumber industry.