Lillooet | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Lillooet, BC, incorporated as a district municipality in 1996, population 2322 (2011c), 2324 (2006c). The District of Lillooet is located in the southern interior of British Columbia, 252 km northeast of Vancouver.

Lillooet, BC, incorporated as a district municipality in 1996, population 2322 (2011c), 2324 (2006c). The District of Lillooet is located in the southern interior of British Columbia, 252 km northeast of Vancouver. It sits at the eastern edge of the Coast Mountains above the west bank of the Fraser River. Lillooet is rich in Aboriginal history and culture and remains one of the main population centres of the St'át'imc Lil'wat Nation, an Interior Salish people. Originally known as Cayoosh Flat, named for a cayuse (Aboriginal pony), the community was renamed Lillooet in 1860, after the Lil'wat. It first became a municipality in 1946, when it was incorporated as a village. Fifty years later, it was reincorporated as the District Municipality of Lillooet.

Mile "0"

Miners came by the thousands from the coast to the interior in 1858 during the Fraser River Gold Rush, travelling up the Harrison, Lillooet, Anderson and Seton lakes to the present site of Lillooet. Governor James Douglas ordered the construction of a trail from Port Douglas on Harrison Lake to Lillooet. The Royal Engineers supervised the construction and miners were contracted to build it. Lillooet became Mile "0" on the original road to the Cariboo, until the Cariboo Road from Yale was completed to Clinton in 1863. Then Yale obtained the status of Mile "0," although the roadhouses north of Clinton such as 70 Mile House and 100 Mile House take their distances from Lillooet.

The new settlement quickly became an important town on the route to the Cariboo and Fraser River goldfields. Some 16 000 gold seekers were outfitted in Lillooet until the alternative Cariboo Road finally reached Lytton. Lillooet's importance as a stopping place then declined with activity shifting to farming, ranching and logging.

Later Developments

After the Cariboo Gold Rush waned, there were a number of smaller gold rushes in the Lillooet region. In the mid 1880s, to the chagrin of other miners, Chinese miners struck it rich on the placer deposits along the lower section of Cayoosh Creek. Carefully stacked rock piles remain as evidence of their diligent mining. Interest in the area led to discoveries in the late 1890s upstream on Cayoosh Creek and in the Bridge River area. The single largest deposit of gold found anywhere in British Columbia was found in the valley of the Bridge River. The last gold mine (Bralorne) ceased operations in 1971. The province's first jade mine was in operation in the same region in the 1970s (see also gemstone).

The area was and still is known for big-game hunting. Many settlers were employed as outfitters and guides. During World War II, the Lillooet area was the location of several internment camps for Japanese Canadians.

Present Day

The major industries in Lillooet are hydroelectricity, the railway, forestry (logging and forestry products), agriculture and tourism. With irrigation, the fertile soil in the region produces crops of fruits and vegetables including grapes, apricots, tomatoes, melons, peaches, corn and potatoes. Ranching helped to found Lillooet and continues today. Tourism increased in importance with the completion of the Sea to Sky Highway in 1991 linking Lillooet to Whistler.

A modern landmark is the Bridge of the 23 Camels (1981) commemorating the failed experiment by Victoria entrepreneur Frank Laumeister and others, who in 1862 imported camels for use as pack animals. This bridge replaced the steel cable and wood suspension bridge built by the Royal Engineers (1913). Attractions include the Lillooet Museum, St'at'imc Cultural Tours, and Miyazaki Heritage House (circa 1880s), built by Caspar Phair, one of Lillooet's first settlers. The Bridge River-Lillooet News, which still operates, achieved notoriety under owner and editor Margaret "Ma" Murray, who was known for her colourful commonsense editorials and commentary on public events.