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Monday, June 6, 2016

7 Fascinating Facts About the History of Prince George: The Capital of Northern B.C.

Although I currently live in Vernon, BC, I was born in Prince George in 1978. I moved to Valemount when I was 3 years old but promptly returned to the city I knew and loved at the age of 18 eventually graduating from the College of New Caledonia. My fond memories of this northern community have inspired me to research some of its history and write this hopefully fun and informative blog. 

This is by no means a complete history of the City but rather some highlights to get a person interested in further study.  As always I am open to suggestions and corrections of the historical content. 

“Not far from the geographical centre of British Columbia there is a lovely valley where the clear waters of the Nechako join with those of the muddy Fraser. Here at the meeting of the waters is situated the young and enterprising 
city of Prince George.”  
Rev. F.E. Runnalls 

#1 The Lheidli T’enneh First Nations

The Lheidli T’enneh First Nations’ traditional territory lies at the confluence of the Nechako and Fraser Rivers and where portions of the City of Prince George now stand. Once known as the Fort George Indian Band, the traditional name consists of two Native words - “ The word Lheidli means "where the two rivers flow together" and T'enneh means "the People".

The Lheidli T’enneh (pronounced Klate-lee – Ten-eh) are a sub group of the Dakelh First Nations also known as the Carrier Indians. Chief Dominic Frederick has said “The history of our people is a big part of the history of the City of Prince George…Today, we can collectively work together, side-by-side, and build upon the economic prosperity that will see Lheidli T'enneh take its rightful place alongside our local government, the City of Prince George, and the entire region." 

#2 Simon Fraser & 
the Original Fort George 

It is Alexander Mackenzie, in 1793, who is credited as being the first white man to see the area that is now occupied by the City of Prince George. But it was another Scotsman, Simon Fraser, who founded the original Fort George in 1807 as a NorthWest Fur Company Trading Post and dubbed the surrounding area “New Caledonia”, presumably after his parent’s Scottish homeland (Caledonia is the Latin name given to the area of Scotland by the Romans).  
Simon Fraser 

Fraser named the Fort after King George III of England and on May 22, 1808, he began his infamous and intrepid journey down the Fraser River from what would become the City of Prince George. 

#3 The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway 

In contrast to our present “Capital of Northern B.C.” , Bev Christensen tells us in her chronicles of the city that “ During its first 100 years Fort George slumbered in the wilderness while…Ft. St. James and Quesnel were drawn into the historical spotlight." The famous Cariboo Wagon Road didn’t even stretch its length to Fort George. However, the fortunes of Fort George would soon change when in July of 1903 The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and the federal government signed a contract to build a railway from Winnipeg to Prince Rupert via the future site of Prince George. 

PC: Exploration Place 

This instigated a flurry of real estate activity in the area and its first real population boom. Soon the Grand Trunk Pacific (GTP) had reached Tete Jaune Cache and from there as many as one hundred scows a day would set afloat on the Fraser River with supplies for Fort George. The modern city of Prince George would soon began to form. 

#4 The 3 Georges

Unlike the relative unity we see today, the city of Prince George was once three separate town sites all vying to become the best. By 1909 two competing communities had already emerged – South Fort George on the Fraser and Central Fort George (also called “Fort George”) on the Nechako. South Fort George had the advantage of being the landing site for most of the sternwheelers and also having the first sawmill in the area. The founder of Central Fort George, George Hammond of the Natural Resources Security Company, was not one to back down though. 

South Fort George 

The main goal, of course, for each town site was to have the terminus of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway built in within their community – this would determine predominance. A long and bitter battle between the 2 communities and the GTP Railway ensued but in the end the GTP built a new town site on the area surrounding the old Hudson’s Bay trading post (between the other two communities) and christened it “Prince George”.  The area now known as “The Crescents” in Prince George was actually purposely designed by the founders of the new town as a blockade to Central Fort George. In the end, the name Prince George stood and the other two communities eventually joined – Central Fort George in 1953 and South Fort George in 1975. 

#5 The Name 

As far as Simon Fraser was concerned Fort George was named in honour of King George III of England.  King George III who lived from 1738 -1820 was one of the longest reigning monarchs of all time and was on the throne during the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. 

Prince George Duke of Kent 

However, since the new GTP town was named Prince George in 1915 there has been some dispute as to who the city is named for. Some say it was King George V (the father of King George VI and a character in the movie “The King’s Speech”).  A new theory has come into being though that portrays Prince George, a grandson of George V and an uncle of Queen Elizabeth II, as the City’s namesake. This man went on to become the Duke of Kent and married the Greek princess, Marina. He later died while serving in the Royal Air Force. Today we have another young Prince George who has made the city just a little more popular in the world media – perhaps one day he will visit. 

#6 The Paddlewheelers

While many paddlewheel ships (also known as sternwheelers) travelled the mighty Fraser to the Prince George area perhaps none was more famous than the BX – known as “The Queen of the Upper Fraser”. Commissioned by the B.C. Express Company, the BX Sternwheeler was built in Soda Creek in 1910 by Alexander Watson Jr. Though it had to ply some of the most treacherous waters in B.C. it was still a grand boat built with luxury in mind. She was comprised of three decks, staterooms for 70 passengers (and deck room for another 60) and was steam heated, with running water and fine china imported from England.   When ship first landed at South Fort George (to the consternation of Central Fort George) on June 24, 1910 many excited residents gathered to meet her. 
The BX 
Captain Owen Forrester Browne

Another interesting facet of the BX’s story was her captain – Owen Forrester Browne. He was a man of Hawaiian descent (known then as Kanakas) and was well respected as the best captain on the Upper Fraser. Browne piloted the BX for the entirety of her career. He later married Margaret Seymour of South Fort George who happened to be the daughter of the famous Granny Seymour. 

#7 The Forest Industry 

While it was the railroad that sparked the first boom of Prince George in the early 1900’s, it has been the Forest Industry which has sustained the city through much of the rest of that century. Bev Christensen records for us “ By 1919 the Prince George Board of Trade reported there were 18 sawmills operating between Prince George and McBride. Most of the 33 million board feet produced that year was exported to the Prairies.” 

Then the first Pulp Mill was opened in 1966. In 1981 Prince George was , in fact, the second largest city in all of British Columbia edging out even Victoria. A popular symbol of Prince George today is “Mr. PG” – a large log shaped figure which first appeared in a parade float in 1960 and went on to become known throughout the province as emblematic of the city’s close relationship with the forests that surround it. 

"He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;

And whatever he does shall prosper."
Psalm 1:3 

Sources & Further Reading:

Prince George: Rivers, Railways, and Timber by Bev Christensen (1989 Windsor Publications Ltd.) 

A History of Prince George by Rev. F.E. Runnalls: 

Exploration Place website: 

Tourism Prince George website:



  1. Thank you, that is an interesting read.

  2. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Wonderful and I will share this for others who spent years( or even days) inPrince George.

  4. 2 to 7 are interesting and informative. #1 is propaganda . When the explores first saw the island that was the future site of Fort George there were no people living in the upper Fraser water shed . Trappers came because the built houses for them .The fort George reserve #1 wasn't formed until 1892. The first time Lheidli T' enneh is mentioned in The Citizen is in the 1990s. There claim of Traditional territory has never been challenged . The fur traders lived at Fort George first.