Yale may be a small town, but its fascinating history delivers a mighty punch! With time comes change, and things can go from boom to bust and back again, but one thing remains the same: Yale will forever have the acclaim and notoriety of being a gold-rush boomtown full of intriguing characters and riveting stories. Let’s take a look back at Yale’s earliest roots and find out how Yale Historic Site came to be! 

For 10,000 years the Indigenous people of Yale resided on this land fishing, gathering and hunting.

1808: Simon Fraser and his crew traversed the Fraser River by canoe; scouting the Fraser Canyon in search of a trading route and locations for trading posts for the North West Company. Some spots along the river were too turbulent for canoe travel and required portaging (on a landscape which was also treacherous and nearly impassable, if not for the help of local Indigenous people). Hell’s Gate got its name because after Simon Fraser portaged a particularly perilous gorge, he journaled that his expedition had travelled ” where no human being should ever venture for surely we have encountered the gates of hell”.

Simon Fraser traversing the canyon with the guidance and assistance of Indigenous Peoples

1824: James McMillan, a fellow explorer for the North West Company, visited Fraser’s route again, hoping to find an easier way to pass through from the coast to the interior.

1828: Governor George Simpson made survey of the route after the two prior men deemed the route impossible and decided that the canyon: “cannot under any circumstances be attempted by loaded craft”.

Sir George Simpson Receiving a Deputation of Indians

1846-47: Alexander Caulfield Anderson explored two alternative routes to make the trade trail possible.

1848: The Hudson’s Bay Company officially built its Fort in Yale.

1848: Steamboats began navigating the Fraser River into the canyon but could only make it as far as Yale due to the wild waters beyond. This is why Yale became such a bustling town— all the supplies miners required arrived in Yale. From here, if goods needed to go further north, they went by horse and wagon. 

A Steamboat at Fort Yale

1858: Gold was discovered on a nearby sand bar now known as Hill’s Bar. This led to an influx of up to 30,000 miners into Yale in search of financial fortune.

1858: Yale Pioneer Cemetery was established. The original cemetery was located next to Yale Creek but the discovery of gold nearby led miners to relocate the four original graves to their present location.

1858: One of the earliest businesses in BC, the Oppenheimer Bros. Store opened on Front Street in Yale, knowing the wave of miners arriving in town would need supplies. A receipt from 1875 advertises that they sold “Provisions, groceries, hardware, mining and agricultural implements, Havana cigars, tobacco, wine and liquor, dry goods, hats, boots, shoes, drugs, and patent medicines”.

Outside of Oppenheimer Bros. Store

1862: The construction of the Cariboo Wagon Road began, with Yale as the starting point, to bring goods to the miners in the Cariboo region.

1863: St. John the Divine Church was built by the Church of England in an attempt to “civilize” the raucous miners.

St. John the Divine

1868: 26 delegates from all over the colony met at Yale for a convention of the Confederation League. Until 1866, British Columbia had been comprised of two colonies: Vancouver Island (which became a colony in 1849) and mainland British Columbia (1858). In 1866 the two were united into a single colony, with the capital in Victoria.

1870: The Creighton House was built, now home to Yale’s museum, giftshop, archives, and Beth Clare garden. This home was built for David James Creighton, a local pioneer who owned an orchard, hotel, restaurant and store in Yale. 

1880: Known today as the Johnny Ward Guest House, this house was built for William Henry “Johnny” Ward, his wife Alice Squalabia, and their six children.

The Johnny Ward Guest House, as seen today

1880-86: The Canadian Pacific Railway was constructed from Emory Bar to Savona, led by construction contractor Andrew Onderdonk, with headquarters in Yale.

1884: A school for Indigenous girls was opened in Yale, run by Sisters of the Anglican Church, who came from England. The school was eventually named All Hallows School, after the original school the Sisters managed in England. By 1890, All Hallows became a boarding school, taking in both Indigenous and white girls. 

All Hallows School

1926: The Fraser Canyon Highway was built for the newly popular automobile traffic to travel into the Interior.

1957-64: The Trans-Canada Highway Tunnels through the Fraser Canyon were constructed. In order from South to North: Yale (completed 1963), Saddle Rock (1958), Sailor Bar (1959), Alexandra (1964), Hell’s Gate (1960), Ferrabee (1964) and China Bar (1961).

Construction of the Trans-Canada Highway tunnels in the Fraser Canyon

1970’s: The Yale and District Historical Society was formed.

1980’s: The Church and Museum were included in the Historic Yale Site, providing the Yale and District Historical Society the ability to open its doors to the public. Historic Yale Museum was created. 

Inside the Historic Yale Museum

1987: Yale’s beach became a designated recreational panning reserve open to the general public.

1990’s: New managers moved into Historic Yale and took over operations, although YDHS would maintain possession of all artifacts and exhibits housed within. 

2000’s: Yale Historic Site continues to operate and add new attractions such as the Ward Tea House and the Johnny Ward Guest House, a bed and breakfast with overnight stays.

Inside the Johnny Ward Guest House

We hope you’ve enjoyed this quick journey through time! To truly immerse yourself in Yale’s enthralling past, stop in for a visit at the Yale Historic Site. For more information on other historic sites and attractions in this region, visit Hope, Cascades & Canyons.