Terrace, Skeena River

Terrace, Skeena River

by | Jan 14, 2022

Terrace is a community at the confluence of the Skeena and Kitsumkalum Rivers, about 71 miles (114 km) east-northeast of Prince Rupert and 64 miles (103 km) southwest of Hazelton, British Columbia. The community name comes from the terraces or benches rising up from the Skeena River banks. The community of Terrace is situated within the rugged high-relief Coast Mountains which are 80%-85% underlain by the enormous tract of granitic and gneissic rocks called the Coast Mountains Batholith. The advance and retreat of continental and mountain glaciers during the Last Glacial Maximum are one of the more significant landscape-forming processes in British Columbia, where all major watersheds reflect the interaction of Pleistocene and Holocene glaciation with regional patterns of post-glacial rebound and tectonic uplift. Glacial scour along with deposition of glacially-derived sediments had a significant role in shaping the topography and drainage patterns of the Skeena River watershed. The floodplain is formed by sediment deposition as the gradient of the river decreases and confinement of the river by bedrock declines towards the estuary. As the velocity of the water decreases, the sediment bedload of the river is deposited on the floodplain, which consists of a series of islands in the river channel and adjacent mainland areas. The floodplain sediments, which can exceed 66 feet (20 m) in depth, overlie glacial, marine or deltaic sediments laid down on the seafloor when the Skeena River valley was a fjord. These sediments were buried  as the Skeena River estuary and floodplain moved progressively westward down the valley in postglacial times. As the land rebounded following the removal of glacier ice, the sediment deposits were uplifted creating the terraced landforms along the Skeena River. These flat expanses were relatively rare in the rugged mountain topography and created areas for human settlement and agriculture. The Skeena River has been an important historical transportation artery, particularly between the Tsimshian people, meaning ‘inside the Skeena River’, and the Gitxsan people, meaning ‘people of the Skeena River’. The Tsimshian migrated to the Lower Skeena River and established a settlement called Kitsumkalum on a terrace at the junction of the Skeena and the Kitsumkalum Rivers.

At one time the Tsimshian people lived on the upper reaches of the Skeena River and according to their oral history, after a series of disasters befell the people, a chief led a migration away from the cursed interior land to the coast, where they founded Kitkatla village on present-day Dolphin Island at the mouth of the Skeena River. The Gitxsan remained in the upper Skeena region near the forks of the Skeena at present-day Hazelton. Over time, other chiefs moved down the river and occupied all the lands of the lower Skeena valley. These groups developed a new dialect of their ancestral language and came to regard themselves as a distinct coastal population, now known as the Tsimshian. They continued to share the rights and customs of those who are known as the Gitxsan, their ancestral kin on the upper Skeena. In late pre-contact times, the Tsimshian gradually moved to winter villages on the islands and returned to their summer villages along the lower Skeena River when the salmon returned. The archaeological record shows 5,000 years of continuous habitation at the mouth of the Skeena River in the Prince Rupert area. The Kitkatla were probably the first Tsimshian village contacted by Europeans when Captain Charles Duncan and James Colnett arrived in 1787. In 1834, the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post and fort called Fort Simpson, now known as Lax Kw’alaams, and nine Tsimshian villages moved to the surrounding area for better access to trade goods. In 1865, the Russian-American Telegraph, also known as the Collins Overland Telegraph, was an attempt by the Western Union Telegraph Company to lay a telegraph line from San Francisco, California to Moscow, Russia. The company chartered the sternwheel steamer Union under the command of Captain Tom Coffin to deliver supplies up the Skeena River. The Union fought her way upstream for 90 miles (140 km) and could not ascend any further. The telegraph company then decided to build their own sternwheeler, the Mumford, and she left Victoria commanded by Captain Coffin in July 1866. This time Coffin traveled 110 miles (180 km) upstream, a feat he repeated three times, successfully delivering 150 miles (240 km) of material for the telegraph line and 12,000 rations for its workers. The telegraph line passed Fort Fraser and reached the Skeena River at the settlement of Hazelton when it was learned that a transatlantic cable had been successfully laid rendering the whole project obsolete; however, a steamboat route up the Skeena had opened the territory to miners, prospectors, and settlers.

In 1869, the Omineca Gold Rush began and it again became profitable to attempt navigation on the Skeena. The Omineca diggings could be easily reached from Hazelton, but no one had yet attempted to navigate the Skeena upriver beyond the mouth of the Kitsumkalum River. Captain William Moore was put under contract with the Hudson’s Bay Company to perform this service, and in the spring of 1871, Moore built the schooner Minnie and loaded her with supplies for the Omineca district and, with a crew of thirty men and a herd of mules, pioneered a route up the Skeena River. In the spring of 1872, Moore built two more barges and two large canoes at Port Essington and hired 24 men of the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimpsean tribes. This was grueling and perilous work, as well as slow and expensive. In 1889, the Hudson’s Bay Company built the sternwheel steamer Caledonia and hired Captain George Odin to run the boat. Caledonia successfully negotiated the Kitselas Canyon above Kitsumkalum and reached Hazelton in nine days. Several other steamers were built around the turn of the century, in part due to the growing salmon fishing industry and the Klondike Gold Rush, and eventually, it only took an average of three days to travel from Port Essington to Hazelton. In 1905, a pioneer settler named George Little staked his preemption on the left bank of the Skeena River at the mouth of the Kitsumkalum River and purchased land on the north bank which he gave to the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway to build a station. Little platted a townsite which he originally called Littleton, but this name was rejected by postal authorities and he proceeded with the name Terrace. After only 22 years, the last riverboat trip was taken by the Inlander in September 1912, and then the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway took over the function of hauling passengers, freight, and timber. The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway was a historic Canadian transcontinental project to extend a railway west from Winnipeg to a new Pacific coast port at present-day Prince Rupert. The railway was mostly constructed between 1907-1914 and operated from 1914-1919 when it was nationalized as the Canadian National Railway. Despite poor decision-making by the various levels of government and the railway management, the railway established local employment opportunities, a telegraph service, and freight, passenger, and mail transportation. For most of the 20th century Terrace was a sawmill town, once known as the cedar pole capital of the world when over 50,000 poles were manufactured annually for telephone and electric power poles. During the 1950s, it prospered as a supply center for the construction of Kitimat, 37 miles (60 km) south at the head of Douglas Channel. Today many people in Terrace commute to Kitimat to work at the aluminum smelter. Read more here and here. Explore more of Terrace and the Skeena River here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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