Lillooet was originally “cayoush flats”, called so by the native Indians who lived in the area as it was good grazing land for the Indian ponies called “cayuses”. The area was visited by explorer Simon Fraser around 1808 during his journey down the river that he gave his name to and by other traders during the following years.
In the early 1860’s the governor of the time James Douglas named the town Lillooet after the Indian people gave acceptance to the name and it soon became the second largest town north of San Francisco and to the west of Chicago due to the discovery of gold in the area. Gold prospectors poured in from all over the country seeking wealth in the soils of the Lillooet area. Newspapers of the time hailed the find of gold in Fraser river lower reaches but negotiating the Fraser upper reaches is no mean feat. Many people drowned trying to navigate the river upstream by boat.
Five hundred miners were contracted by the governor to build a road from the lower Fraser up the Harrison River and a chain of lakes to Lillooet. Lillooet was the terminus of the Douglas/Harrison trail but there was still another 300 miles of rough trail ahead for miners and merchants.
As Mile 0 of the Cariboo Road, Lillooet was a busy, sometimes brawling place with about 13 bars/saloons and a population of 16,000 people. The railway arrived in 1912 and with the discovery of gold at Bridge River, another boom was close at hand. The completion of the Great Cariboo Wagon Road from Lillooet and on to Williams Lake changed the daily life of people living in the Cariboo, especially mining where costs of freight dropped dramatically.
Rail passengers coming to Lillooet had to disembark at Lillooet Station which, unlike today, was located on bench land the other side of the river. This meant a dusty trip to the Royal Engineers Bridge to arrive in the town from the north. Until recently Lillooet was served by a daily passenger service from Vancouver. This would allow travelers to view some of the most beautiful scenery in the world on their way to Lillooet.
Lillooet has survived good and bad times and was almost destroyed by fire in the 1970’s.
Today, Lillooet still boasts that scenery along with many sites and activities for the traveler and maybe those who seek a place to stay for a while. It attracts people from all over the world with great weather and a short drive (by Canadian standards anyway) to other centers like Whistler and Kamloops.
Some of the activities include ice climbing, swimming, hiking, fishing, mountain biking and more too numerous to mention here. There are Motels, Hotels, Bed and Breakfast accommodations, numerous restaurants and tour companies waiting to help you enjoy your stay.
The Lillooet Museum at 790 Main St. serves as our Visitor Center. Open daily 9:00 am - 7:00 pm July and August, and Tues. to Sat. 10:00 am - 4:00 pm May, June, Sept. Oct. ph. (250)-256-4308 . Please visit us on the web at Visitor Center.
Why not try your hand at gold panning ? Lillooet is a golden opportunity you don’t want to miss!