48 Hours in the Fraser Canyon
Rediscovering the rush of historic Fraser Canyon
The 100-kilometre stretch of rugged canyon between Hope and Lytton has seen its fair share of booms and busts. The gold rush, the railway and the highway—those were good times. But, the gold disappeared, the trains don’t stop much, and as of 1986 drivers could take the Coquihalla—a faster and wider route going north and east out of Vancouver.
But this stretch of Highway 1’s roughhewn, unpolished and weather-beaten beauty has attracted a new generation of entrepreneurs who are joining the passionate holdouts and breathing new life into the Fraser Canyon.
Hope is almost too aptly named for this adventure: the town is the literal fork in the road where you can choose to hit the gas and move on to the Coquihalla highway, or stop awhile before taking Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon. Linger and be rewarded. Grab a legendary apple fritter at Dutchies Bakery, some sausage rolls at the Rolling Pin and use the calorie boost for a little hike on the new HBC Heritage Trail. The 74-kilometre trek follows the original fur trade route through the Cascade Mountains, but day trippers can venture a couple kilometres in, check out the falls, take in the beauty and bid farewell to the intrepid adventurers who will spend the next 10 days eating dehydrated soup and beef jerky.
Fortunately, you can partake in a more sophisticated menu. 293 Wallace, the most talked-about restaurant in the area, serves up pork belly poutine, flat iron steak and pan-seared scallops. The young and incredibly enthusiastic Chef Hiro Takeda combines skills he picked up from his tenure at the acclaimed Noma in Denmark with a passion for foraging fresh local ingredients. How local? He collects ants to add a citrus punch to his cheesecake, harvests reindeer moss (served deep fried on his wild mushroom risotto) and brews his own Douglas Fir kombucha. He took a risk opening up this restaurant in a town known more for gas stations than its culinary delights, but judging by the lineup out the door, it’s paying off.
Leaving Hope, head 20 minutes up the lonely highway to Sue and Darwin Baerg’s riverside resort, home of the lovingly restored 150-year-old Teague House BnB. Sue has spent the better part of the last twenty years restoring this impressive home, keeping many of the original features and filling it with relics from the gold rush. (Some of the most interesting characters of era have called this place home—if you ever get the feeling you’re not alone, it may be because a few of them are still there.)
At the height of the gold rush, Yale was the biggest city north of San Francisco and west of Chicago. It’s current population? 136. You can experience some of its impressive history (including a mock up of a tent city that once housed as many as 30-thousand gold hungry prospectors) with a stop at the Yale Historic Site. One of the restored buildings, The Ward Tea House serves up some great home baking (they’re famous for their crumble). Indulge while sitting out in the garden near this benignly flowing arm of the Fraser River.
But the river changes rapidly just north of this spot, where the canyon reveals its splendour and its fury. Hell’s Gate is the Fraser’s narrowest and deepest point, and here the water rushes by like a horizontal tornado pushing as much as 200 million gallons through the narrow rock canyon every minute.
Pioneers of the gold rush days slept in canvas tents and braved the rapids. You can do the same, but thanks to Bryan Fogelman you’ll be much safer and infinitely more comfortable. Folgelman spent about 20 years pioneering a number of rivers before settling on the Nahatlach and opening the Reo Rafting Resort. After five hours of battling rapids with names like Meatgrinder, Lose Yer Lunch and Pinball (no surprise that the Fraser is considered one of the best rafting rivers in North America), rest your tired muscles glamping in one of the custom canvas tents. Each is kitted out with proper beds (no sleeping bags required) and riverfront decks: there’s no way the early pioneers slept like this. And they probably didn’t finish their grueling day with an aromatherapy massage. (But you can.)
The surest sign of the area’s rebirth is in Boston Bar. Until a couple of years ago, it was another decaying roadside town in the heart of the Fraser Canyon—and then superstar chef Todd Baiden took over the vacant Mighty Fraser Motel and began a manic restoration. Now, it boasts an art gallery, lounge, remodeled rooms and an impressive vegetable and herb garden that feeds the centre piece of his newly revamped establishment: Fat Jack’s Diner and Pub. The menu reads like a comfort food wish list: spicy grilled pork chops, braised brisket, locally sourced beef burgers and of course, chicken and waffles. His fare would incite a stampede of food lovers in Vancouver and Whistler. But, ask Baiden why he chose Boston Bar and he stares back at you like you’re missing the obvious. “We’re at the vanguard man! This area is going take off.”
And he just might be right.