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Yale is an unincorporated though historically very important small town in the Canadianmarker province of British Columbiamarker. It was founded in 1848 by the Hudson's Bay Company as Fort Yale by Ovid Allard, the appointed manager of the new post, who named it after his superior, James Murray Yale, then Chief Factor of the Columbia District. In its heyday at the peak of the gold rush, it was reputed to be the largest city west of Chicagomarker and north of San Franciscomarker. It also earned epithets such as "the wickedest little settlement in British Columbia" and "a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah" of vice and violence and lawlessness.

Yale played an important role in certain events of the gold rush period which threatened to throw B.C. over to American annexation, the Fraser Canyon War and McGowan's War, and it is to Yale that the Governor (on the first occasion) and the government officials (on the second) - Begbie, Brew and Moody came to address Americanmarker miners and take control of matters that threatened the rule of the Crown over the Mainland (or "New Caledonia" as it was called before the creation of the mainland colony, although that term originally applied to the fur district northwest from present-day Prince Georgemarker).

Yale is on the Fraser River and is generally considered to be on the dividing line between the Coast and the Interior. Immediately north of the village the Fraser Canyonmarker begins, and the river is generally considered unnavigable past this point, although rough water is common on the Fraser anywhere upstream from Chilliwackmarker, and even more so above Hopemarker, about 20 miles south of Yale. But steamers could make it to Yale, good pilots and water conditions permitting, and the town had a busy dockside life as well as a variety of bars, restaurants, hotels, saloons and various services. Its maximum population during the gold rush was in the 15,000 range, although typically it housed 5-8,000. The higher figure relates to the evacuation of the Canyon during the Fraser Canyon War of 1858.

Being the head of river navigation also meant being the best location for the start of the Cariboo Wagon Road (as there were no usable roads between Yale and the settlements nearer the Fraser's mouth. The Cariboo Road ran from Yale to Barkervillemarker via Lyttonmarker, Ashcroftmarker and Quesnelmarker, built in the early 1860s. By the start of the 1870s an overland route from New Westminstermarker was finally built - the Yale Road, known today as Old Yale Road and still extant in sections from Surreymarker through Abbotsfordmarker and Chilliwackmarker, though no longer entirely a continuous "highway". Its counterpart on the north side of the river was the Dewdney Trunk Road, built in the same period in advance of railway construction in the 1880s, but which ran only to Hatzicmarker, just east of Mission Citymarker.

Because of its unique role as a transshipment point for the Cariboo Road, Yale prospered for another twenty years after the gold rush, and though dwindled in population it retained some prestige and such sophistication as had grown up within the rough gold town, and it was as familiar to early provincial high society as were New Westminster distant Barkerville. During the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, construction ran directly through the village and destroyed the town's old commercial core and the onetime immediacy of its waterfront to town life.

Handy enough to travel to and from New Westminstermarker and the railway's destinationmarker on Burrard Inletmarker (soon after named Vancouver), it became the headquarters and residence of railway contractor Andrew Onderdonk and the town boomed with population and new businesses because of railway spending and employment. Yale and nearby Emory City, in the vicinity of Hill's Bar, where the gold rush had become, as well as all the major Canyon towns to Ashcroftmarker, thronged with temporary residents and business of various kinds and legitimacies.

Three-times daily rail service to Vancouver - begun in the early 1880s before construction in the Canyon was finished in 1885 - made access between Yale a popular excursion run, although the population of the railway boom was greatly reduce by 1890 and progressively afterwards. Daily return service remained in effect until World War I. When Onderdonk moved on in 1886, he donated his estate for a girl's school, All Hallows, which became one of the main society schools in the colony and continued in operation into the 1920s.

Construction of the railway also meant the destruction of the Cariboo Wagon Road, which was severed between Yale and Boston Barmarker and between Lyttonmarker and Spences Bridgemarker. A new highway north from Yale was not built until the Cariboo Highway in 1922, partly built using surviving roadgrades of the original wagon road and since upgraded to the Trans-Canada Highway, and was for a long time the main route between the Interiormarker and the Coastmarker. After major reconstruction of the Cariboo Highway in the 1950s, involving the construction of several major tunnels, the difficult old canyon stretch of the route became an actual highway (instead of in name only) and towns such as Yale boomed once again. With the opening of the faster Coquihalla Highway in the 1980s, Yale's economy and population fell off again.

Most of today's population are members of the self-governing Yale First Nation. Non-native businesses include a couple of stores, restaurants and a few motels and other services, as well as gas stations and automotive repair and rescue outfits. The Yale area is the lowest main destination for the Fraser River rafting expedition companies and several have waterfront campgrounds and facilities near town. All Hallows is now a campground and hostel. Not much of gold rush era Yale survives, as the docks vanished long ago and the railway ran down the main street of what had been town. The Yale Museum is located on old Front Street, adjacent to the tracks, and next to it is the Anglican Church of St. John the Divine, among the oldest in British Columbia.

Visible history is mostly atmosphere, and in good weather the town's setting is spectacular. Every summer, a historical re-enactment group visits Yale to celebrate the Royal Engineers, who had served under Moody during McGowan's War and worked on the Cariboo Wagon Road and the Douglas-Lillooet Trail and were an integral part of Yale's life from the gold rush to the end of the 1870s.

References

  • Short Portage to Lillooet, Irene Edwards, self-published, Lillooet, various editions, out of print.
  • British Columbia Chronicle: Gold and Colonists", Helen B. Akrigg and G.P.V. Akrigg, Discovery Press, Vancouver 1977.


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