See the Construction of the Fraser Canyon Highway in Historical Photos

History and infrastructure nerds rejoice! We’ve collected a stunning group of photographs documenting the construction of the Fraser Canyon Highway beginning in the 1920s, and moving into the 30s, 40s and 50s. We’re excited to share them with you here, along with a bit of Fraser Canyon route history to boot.

Why all the Fuss about the Fraser Canyon?
The Fraser Canyon was home to the first gold rush traffic in BC, which began in 1857 when gold was found on the banks of the Thompson River, north of where the town of Lytton is located today. When news of the “New El Dorado” in the north made it south to San Francisco, the rush was on. Thousands upon thousands of prospectors came to the area in an attempt to strike it rich. Most arrived by boat at Yale near the start of the Fraser Canyon, but the rest of the journey was by foot or wagon on the Cariboo Trail.

As prospectors spread out and settled into the country, the wagon trail became an important route for supplies of all sorts. The Yale Cariboo Wagon Road became the preferred route for stage coaches and freight wagon companies and was widened and improved in many areas to keep good moving.  New communities along the route also sprang to life at this time: Yale, Hell’s Gate, Boston Bar, Lytton and Clinton to name a few.

A rough section of washed out road along the old Cariboo Wagon Trail.

After the gold rush (and the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway through the canyon) the Yale – Cariboo Wagon Road was largely destroyed and abandoned; however, the automobile craze of the 1920s generated a renewed interest in the route and so, between 1924 and 1939, the Fraser Canyon route was reborn as the Fraser Canyon Highway. The rugged canyon and the roads carved into the mountainside gave the motoring public quite the thrill and in 1962 this section of highway was officially designated as BC Highway 1 (part of the Trans-Canada Highway).  We continue to work on improving safety along this famous route for the travellers of today and tomorrow.

Have a look at the photos of the reconstruction below and let us know what you think. If you have any comments about this, or any other work we do, we’d love to hear from you!

Fraser Canyon highway cribbing

Engineers used cribbing and cantilevered roads to make up for lack of space alongside the mountains.

Fraser Canyon Construction machines

Construction crews near Boston Bar carve out the roadway.

Clearing rubble and timber to make way for the improved route.

Widening the road near Jackass Mountain, circa 1939. Why Jackass Mountain? During the gold rush, mule trains often took miners and supplies north to the gold fields of the Cariboo, but not all mules made the route, instead falling off the steep bluffs, hence the name.

safety barrier on old Fraser Canyon highway

Too close for comfort. Engineers have built many safety features to keep motorists safe along the route.

Sometimes, going through the mountain was the easiest option!

A pleasure drive for the “modern day” motorist of the 1920s.

What a view! An early motorist is rewarded with the sight of the stunning Fraser Canyon.

The Fraser Canyon route today, monitored by our BC HighwayCams and the DriveBC traveller information system.

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18 Responses to See the Construction of the Fraser Canyon Highway in Historical Photos

  1. Robert Smethurst on August 15, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    I remember driving through the Canyon in 1940 with my Mother and Dad when I was 11 years old. We were on our way to Chute Lake, between Penticton and Kelowna. The drive through the canyon was pretty scary because of the many narrow sections, switch -backs, tunnels etc. In those days we had many flat tires because of the gravel roads and of course the tires had tubes. Changing a tire was quite a chore, especially when you were parked on a narrow section of road. BUT, the scenery was marvelous. Great memories.

  2. Harold Watkins on August 14, 2018 at 9:13 pm

    My family and I travelled the Fraser Canyon in 1948, and at six years of age I can still remember the corduroy roads and very slow travel.
    It was something to behold really.
    My long term memory is very good and I can still visualize it to this day.
    Great pictures.

    • tranbceditor on August 15, 2018 at 9:39 am

      Hi Harold – we are so glad to hear you enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your memories with us!

  3. jim inkster on August 14, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    love the canyon

  4. Gregory A Milne on August 14, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful memory. I remember my first trip on this highway. It was 1940, and we drove from Princeton up through Spence’s Bridge to join this route. It was 313 miles, and two days, from Princeton to Vancouver then, shortened to 183 miles when the Hope-Princeton opened in November 1949. We did the trip west in a 1929 Chevy, and drove a brand new 1940 Oldsmobile back on its maiden voyage.

    • tranbceditor on August 15, 2018 at 9:45 am

      Wow! What a great memory Gregory – thank you so much for sharing with us. We love hearing these stories from folks out there who remember when. 🙂

  5. Vic on August 13, 2018 at 4:40 pm

    Being a B,.C. history buff, this site is more than welcome.
    Growing up near Trail, I remember the twrrible switch backs that went through WA Sate to get to the coast. I would like to see the construction that went on to build Hwy 3 if you have it on file.

    • tranbceditor on August 14, 2018 at 9:25 am

      Hi Vic – thanks for your support! We will look for Highway 3 construction and share what we find!

  6. Trevor Marc Hughes on August 9, 2018 at 11:57 am

    BTW Are these photos part of the ministry’s collection?

    • tranbceditor on August 9, 2018 at 3:15 pm

      “collection” is a nice term. 🙂 More photos we’re finding as we come across them.

  7. Trevor Marc Hughes on August 9, 2018 at 11:44 am

    Thanks for sharing these archive photos! I enjoyed seeing the progression and knowing more about why that road is there.

  8. Glenn Lambe on August 6, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    Very impressive that you have photographs of the very early stages of the Fraser canyon in your archives and that you post them. Our family came up to Williams Lake in 1958 and still remember some old trestles and hand built walls and waiting for tunnel blasting and road crews to do there work. How times have changed,from a 11 hour or 12 depending on work being done to 6 or 7 hrs depending where your destination is, keep up the good work. Glenn Lambe Wms Lake.

    • tranbceditor on August 7, 2018 at 4:15 pm

      Hi Glenn,

      Thanks for sharing your memories of the Fraser Canyon with us. Times certainly have changed!

  9. Terry Schulz on August 3, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    What an amazing album! The historical info is very intriguing. Thank you for sharing with us!

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