Simon Fraser, explorer, fur trader (born 20 May 1776 in Mapletown, Hoosick Township, New York; died 18 August 1862 in St Andrews West, Canada West). Simon Fraser is best known for his daring exploration of the Fraser River.
Fraser was the youngest of 10 children of Simon Fraser of Culbokie and Guisachan (a cadet branch of the noble Highland Frasers of Lovat) and Isabel Grant of Daldreggan. In September 1773 his family joined the migration of Scottish Highlanders to America, settling in the rural hamlet of Mapletown. Fraser's father joined the Loyalist forces, was captured at the Battle of Bennington and died a prisoner in Albany Jail. Repeatedly harassed by rebels, even after peace was declared, the widow fled to Canada with her young family in 1784, eventually settling near Cornwall.
North West Company
From 1790 Simon Fraser lived in Montréal with his uncle, Judge John Fraser, who supervised his nephew's education, then, in 1792, apprenticed him to the fur-trading North West Company. In 1793 Fraser was sent to Canada's far northwest to learn his trade at the isolated Athabascan posts. In 1801 Fraser was elected one of the company's youngest partners. In 1805 he was selected to expand the company's operations beyond the Rockies. He founded the first European settlements in central British Columbia, establishing Fort McLeod in 1805, Fort St James and Fort Fraser in 1806 and Fort George (present Prince George) in 1807. He called the area New Caledonia, as it reminded him of his mother’s descriptions of the Scottish Highlands.
Fraser River Expedition
Simon Fraser is best known for his daring exploration of the Fraser River (then believed to be the Columbia). On 28 May 1808, hoping to discover a new transportation route to the Pacific, Fraser left Fort George with two clerks, 16 voyageurs and two Indigenous guides. This gruelling 520 mile (832 km) expedition ranks as one of Canada's greatest explorations. Entering territory unknown to Europeans he struggled through the perilous terrain of the Fraser River canyon. With Indigenous assistance and perseverance they survived the turbulent waters and hair-raising cliff-side portages.
At the river's mouth Fraser took bearings and realized that it could not be the Columbia. Threatened by local inhabitants and greatly disappointed, he retreated. David Thompson, who explored the real Columbia, named the river the Fraser; Fraser had already named the Thompson River in Thompson’s honour.
From 1810 to 1814 Fraser was in charge of the MacKenzie River Department. Weary of fur-trade life, and the increasingly violent competition with the Hudson's Bay Company, Fraser determined to retire in 1815, but he was persuaded to return to Athabasca for one last winter. He was amongst the partners arrested by Lord Selkirk at Fort William and charged with complicity in the 1816 Seven Oaks Incident. The case was tried in 1818 — all were acquitted.
Fraser immediately retired and settled at St Andrews West, where he farmed and operated mills. The rest of his life was uneventful except for participating in the 1837 Rebellion, during which he sustained a crippling knee injury. He eventually received a meagre government pension but, thereafter, lived in straitened circumstances.