Golden Miles of History

The History of Agriculture in Lillooet

"We grow the best cantaloupes, grapes, peaches and apples that British Columbia has ever seen. Our alfalfa seed is second to none. Our beef has the best flavor and texture of any in the interior."

- Dan Hurley 1936, Lillooet B.C.

When fur traders arrived in the Lillooet area, the St'át'imc enjoyed a thriving economy based on trading ts'wan or wind-dried salmon. The Hudson's Bay Company couldn't convince them to abandon it in favour of trapping for furs but maintained an outpost here for the purpose of trading for ts'wan to supply their agencies.

When the first road built into the Colony of British Columbia terminated at Lillooet in 1858, many who travelled it saw better opportunities farming & ranching in the area than in mining.

The town became Mile 0 of the Cariboo Road in 1862 and Lillooet grown beans became much in demand in the Cariboo goldfields. Alfalfa seed brought from Mexico also flourished here, providing fodder for the hundreds of pack animals carrying supplies northward.

An American settler grew oats, barley, turnips and potatoes on a flat near Pavilion Lake that the Martley family took over in 1861. They named it the Grange and shipped large quantities of beef, mutton, poultry and vegetables to the Cariboo. Combined with the historic Carson Ranch on Pavilion Plateau, the Grange is now owned by one of Canada's largest suppliers of organic beef.

Jonathan Scott, a planter from Kentucky, farmed the upper bench of the magnificent tablelands across the Fraser from Lillooet after a nine-mile long flume/irrigation ditch from Fountain Lake was built in 1861. Miners were missing tobacco even more than their wives and for the next twenty years he sold plugs and cut tobacco straight off his presses.

By 1864, flour from Oregon cost $100 a sack in Lillooet so four investors built a mill. Supplied with grists from ranches surrounding Lillooet, it produced high quality flour until 1908.

The first attempt to grow hops on the bench above the north end of town ended in failure but in 2009 two enterprising biologists succeeded and their vertical rows of eighteen foot high trellises can be seen across the river from Lillooet. Their ambition is to make the town the organic hops capital of Canada.

The first grapes in the Lillooet area were grown at Fountain from cuttings sent from Italy in 1863. After experimental trials verified the superior terroir of Lillooet soils, our first commercial winery was established in 2009. Since then, Fort Berens has won many awards and medals.

Lillooet boasts B.C.'s best tomatoes. When Japanese Canadians were interned in East Lillooet during WWII, they shipped many train carloads of luscious sun-ripened Lillooet tomatoes to Vancouver. Connoisseurs of fine foods now come here every year and buy hundreds of kilos of tomatoes at the Old Airport Gardens for salsas, sauces and home canning.

Stone fruits, especially apricots, thrive in Lillooet. Trees dripping with fruit in the midsummer heat seem to be in every yard. Lillooet's annual Apricot Tsaqwem Festival also honours native saskatoon berries, equally prolific and widely used by First Nations, eaten fresh or dried for storage.

Throughout the Lillooet area, historic West Pavilion, Bridge River, Yalakom, Fountain & Texas Creek farms and ranches are rising to meet a growing demand for healthy food. Local organic vegetables, fruits, garlic, honey, eggs and poultry are available in local shops or at the Lillooet Farmer's Market every Friday on Main Street from May through to October.

Want to learn more of the epic history of British Columbia? Pick up a map of Lillooet's Golden Miles of History Tour at the Lillooet Museum & Visitor Centre or at participating merchants.

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