History. Discover the Past

Agassiz-Harrison History

The rich land and fish-laden waters of the eastern Fraser Valley have always been home to the Stó:lō, Sq’éwlets, and Sts’ailes peoples.

Anglo-European newcomers arrived in 1808 when Simon Fraser made his way down the river known locally as the Stó:lō, which would eventually come to be named: the Fraser River. The Fraser River is the longest river in British Columbia, and one of the longest and most productive rivers in the world.

The fur trade, and particularly the popularity of beaver pelts, resulted in newcomers following Simon Fraser west into the area.  In 1858 gold was discovered in the Cariboo, drawing thousands more fortune-seekers up the Fraser and Harrison River systems. A few of the gold-seekers came to homestead in the area, the proximity of the Fraser River and Cariboo gold fields advantageous for many speculators.

The Agassiz area recorded its first land claim on December 16, 1859 to a couple noted as “Ferguson and McMillan”, though many newcomers did not record their claims right away.  The Agassiz family homesteaded their claim in 1867, calling it “Ferny Coombe” at first, later changing the name to “Agassiz”.

While a steady stream of newcomers made their homes in the area, it was the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)  through Agassiz in 1885, which dramatically opened up the areas of Harrison Mills, Harrison Hot Springs and Agassiz for further settlement. The District of Kent was incorporated in 1885. Although the Village of Harrison Hot Springs was not incorporated until 1949, the village had already been home to many Anglo-European families by that point.

Hot Springs

Local native peoples were long familiar with the hot waters found at Harrison Lake by the time a record of them was noted by Judge Matthew Begbie who on his way to the mining camps, mentioned the “St. Alice’s Well” so named by the newcomers for Governor Douglas’ daughter, Alice.  Soon a hotel, called the St. Alice Hotel, was drawing visitors who wished to take-in the healing waters.  When the St. Alice Hotel burned down, it was replaced by the Harrison Hotel in 1926.

Agriculture, Forestry & Tourism

Early industry in the area included forestry, agricultural pursuits and tourism. Early efforts in hop farming eventually gave way to dairying while the logging industry spawned a tugboat towing industry and the development of large mills along the Fraser River. Fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation including visits to Harrison’s hot springs, gained popularity with people from around the Lower Mainland and beyond.

The Agassiz Family

Captain Lewis Agassiz was born in Essex, England, on December 25, 1827 and served as an officer with the 23rd Royal Fusiliers in eastern Canada. Lewis married Mrs. Mary Caroline Agassiz (originally von Schram) whose family  had settled in New York state many years before the American revolution. The family was United Empire Loyalists who took the side of the Royalists and after the war came to Canada and were rewarded for their loyalty with grants of land.

In 1858, Captain Agassiz left Canada’s east coast by boat and sailed via Cape Horn, first to San Francisco and then onto British Columbia (it was said he was lured by the Cariboo gold rush).  After a few unsuccessful years of mining, Sir James Douglas persuaded him that there was a future in ranching in the Williams Lake District.

The family embarked on their journey to Williams Lake from Victoria via New Westminster and then onto the steamer Yale up the mighty Fraser River.  Flooding caused them to disembark at Emory’s Bar near Yale because the steamer could not navigate the rapids.  The Agassiz’s had to purchase two horses and a mule to complete their trip to Yale.

The trail from Yale to Williams Lake was under construction by the Royal Engineers with only about half a mile completed when the Agassiz’s arrived.  It was at this point Caroline Agassiz decided that the route was too treacherous to continue, and the destiny of the family was thus redirected to Agassiz.