Fraser Valley, British Columbia: Berries, History and Wine

Winter Wind on Mount Cheam, Fraser Valley BC.
Winter Wind on Mount Cheam, Fraser Valley BC.

The Fraser Valley in BC

By David Lee

Fraser River – Chilliwack Sturgeon

British Columbia’s Fraser Valley has wineries, breweries, lots of restaurants and dozens of outdoor activities. To get there from Vancouver, take Transcanada Highway #1, driving past Langley, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack.  We’ve highlighted the best tips for visiting these three communities in the Fraser Valley.

Hope is at the eastern end of the valley 150 km a two-hour drive. The Fraser valley is a large area. It would take two or three days to explore. Our goal is to cover a few places you should see if you only have one day and some choices if you have more time.

The Fraser Valley, home to the Sto-Lo first nations for over 10,000 years, is named after Simon Fraser who first explored this area in 1808, The Fraser is the longest river in British Columbia, flowing for 1,375 kilometres into the Pacific ocean at Vancouver.

The Fraser river supports five species of salmon that provided a good living for first nations peopl e, and excellent sport fishing today.

Langley –  Country life with all the big city amenities

Langley is a vibrant community lying 40 km east of Vancouver, comprised of Langley City, Langley township,

An antique Coca-Cola truck outside the Fort Langely Market.
An antique Coca-Cola truck outside the Fort Langely Market.

and Fort Langley. The availability of cheaper land means the population of Langley is growing and services, -stores and restruants have followed.

The Langley land base remains 70% agricultural, and strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are important crops.  Large dairy and chicken farms, dot the valley and agrItourism is a growing contributor to the economy .

Fort Langley

Fort Langley built in 1827 by the Hudson’s Bay Company is a good place to start your exploration. It is credited as the birthplace of BC.

The Fort  controlled the fur trade in the west and established a military presence to claim the territory against the Americans and French interests.

The Fort was a military garrison and only military and Hudsons Bay personnel were allowed on site. Fur trade was conducted by a trader at a trading window on the riverside fort wall like today’s drive up windows.

Mill Lake with a floating walkway in Abbotsford, BC.
Mill Lake with a floating walkway in Abbotsford, BC.

Hudsons Bay employees were encouraged to marry first nation women to cement trading alliances.

In 1858, Fort Langley was the jumping off point for the Fraser River gold fields.  News reached San Francisco that gold had been discovered on the upper Fraser and 30,000 US prospectors poured into the area.  Fort Langley was crowded with potential miners, and  sale of miners’ tools and provisions, became big business.

Paddle wheel steamers took miners to yale or port douglas at the head of Harrison Lake. The Gold rush began to dwindle by 1868 and agriculture and forestry became the main industries. Completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1886 spurred growth and permanent settlement.

Buying Wine Fort Winery in British Columbia.
Buying Wine Fort Winery

Trade grew and cranberries, part of the native diet found a market in San Francisco.  Wooden barrels handmade at Fort Langley were packed with cranberries and salted salmon.and shipped to San Francisco and Hawaii.

Today, Fort Langley is a thriving tourism destination, antique shops, bookstores and restaurants, line the streets of this small community. Summer weekends are bustling with  tourists from around the world.

The rebuilt fort langley is a national park and popular historic site. The log palisades, sawn plank ramparts and lookouts  sit on the site of the original Fort Langley. Touring  the original buildings on this historic ground you travel back in time to the 1800’s.

Guides dressed as fur traders, blacksmiths and barrel makers. tell stories, of life at the  trading post. The history seeps from the land into your soul.

Walking trails from Fort Langley follow the gentle banks along the Fraser River where long ago the fur traders travelled. New Condos and houses line the river today. Eagles can often be spotted in the trees, watching for  a chance to grab a salmon breaking the water’s surface as they migrate up river to spawn.

A Bridge crosses the Bedford channel of the Fraser from Fort Langley to Brae Island,  a popular campsite,and RV park. website

The 156 sites at Brae island can accomodate the largest RV’S with up to 50 amp hookups. The location is ideal for visiting the Vancouver area, a nd books up quickly, make sure you reserve early.

Abbotsford - Natures Pickins Market
Abbotsford – Natures Pickins Market

Fort Langley boasts a wide selection of places to eat, pubs, bakeries, and sandwich shops are some of the  choices. Grabbing lunch at Wendel’s Bookstore or The Blacksmith bakery are two of our favorites. It is busy on weekends so be prepared to wait.

Wendels is a popular stop for bike riders who tour the quiet side roads in Fort Langley. You can relax and eat lunch at the patio tables and people watch, as tourists stroll the streets.

Langley has wineries,breweries, farm markets,and farm tours to serve the increasing tourism and resident population. At last count there were two fruit wineries, seven grape wineries, and two breweries. Try sampling fruit wines for a change and you will be pleasantly surprised. Our two favorite award winning fruit wineries are Krause Berry Farms and The Fort Winery .

Krause Berry Farms and Winery

Krause Berry farms is a berry farm with an award winning fruit winery, a bakery, fresh produce, and a playground to keep the kids entertained. Row after row of bright green strawberry and raspberry plants greet you as you wind your way down the gravel road to the brilliant blue buildings of the farm. The berries are fresh from the fields on the property, they have U pick, or you can buy the berries already picked and packaged.

Another massive sturgeon in Chilliwack, BC.
Another massive sturgeon in Chilliwack, BC.

Saddle up at the Tasting Bar

The award winning winery features a really cool tasting bar with saddles for seats.  Mount up and hit the tasting trail, purchase a bottle, and the $4.00 tasting fee is waived.  Who could resist the Blueberry, Blackberry, or Sparkling Strawberry wines, just too delicious!

We had lunch at the wine bar, a Yummy Garden Panini, and an ice cold Blueberry Winearita, wine mixed with a lemon lime slushy.  It sounds a bit strange, but try it, you will like it. The sunny afternoon, and a delicious lunch surrounded by flowers and buzzing bees in the u pick flower garden was perfect.

Browse the Store

Free samples are everywhere, so you can have a taste of the products before you buy. You can pick out fresh  erry Pies, berry jams, berry vinaigrettes, and berry themed gifts. The rows of coolers are full of every kind of berry pie.

The restaurant turns out Waffles with berries and whipped cream, oh so very decadent and delicious. Try a sample of the rich creamy fudge, and you will be hooked.  The Grand Marnier, strawberry margarita, caramel, and chocolate found their way into our bag.

How about a cooking class with a world class Chef?

Blueberry fields in Fraser county in the winter.
Blueberry fields in Fraser county in the winter.

Sign up to take a cooking class with Wolfgang Schmelcher, recognized as one of the best 18 chefs in the world.  How about a pasta workshop, a four-course French bistro dinner or one of the other 10 classes that are offered.  Do not miss this stop, sample the tasty treats they offer, and you will become addicted.

The Fort winery

At the Fort Langley Winery in Fraser Valley, BC.
At the Fort Langley Winery in Fraser Valley, BC.

As you follow the signs from Fort Langley to the The Fort Winery, you wind along country roads that follow the Fraser river past boggy cranberry fields.

The Fort winery is another of our favorites and produces award winning wines from locally grown fruit, including excellent dry cranberry wines, and some sweet ice wines. The winery has been very successful, exporting fruit wine to the Asian market.

Everything about Langley:

Langley Wineries and Breweries – Checkout this site for a list of all the wineries and winery tours in Langley

Fort Langley – Where to eat according to tripadvisor

Abbottsford

Abbotsford is 40 km further  east, and has a couple of stops  to put on your list – the discovery trail, and Mill lake.

The Discovery Trail is a corridor that that spans the community. The extensive trail network is perfect for all season activity including walking, running, rollerblading, and cycling. It winds through natural habitat, including areas with forest, ponds, creeks, and lush meadows. Interpretive signage, and well-marked lookout spots, make the trail a perfect for observing, and photographing the birds and ducks that make their home in the forest and ponds.

Mill Lake, located in the center of Abbotsford has something for everyone. The two kilometer wheelchair accessible trail, along the lake is relaxing for an afternoon jog or walk. A section of the trail has a floating boardwalk surrounded by lilly pads traversing one corner of the lake. Mill lake is stocked with trout every year and the docks along the lakeshore are a popular urban fishing location.

Eagles sometimes roost in the cottonwood trees surrounding the lake looking for a tasty trout dinner. The  picnic areas,  spray park. and playground are fun for the kids. Mill lake is a beautiful spot for a break from your drive through the valley.

Abbotsford International Airport – Don’t miss the Airshow

If you are in Abbotsford  in Mid August the Abbotsford International airshow,  designated as Canada’s National Air Show has some of the finest aerobatic performances in the world. People come from around the globe, to see this airshow, ranked as one of the best ten in the world!

All about Abbotsford

Parks and trails

Mill Lake

Continuing on the Transcanada highway another 20 km brings you to Chilliwack

Chilliwack – famous for sweet  Corn

The green fields of corn and grass stretch out to the eastern hillsides, the beginning of the cascade mountain range that separates the coast from the interior of BC. Mt Cheam dominates the skyline with it’s  distinctive shape, caused when the valley side of the peak, broke away some time in the distance past. The 4500 foot peak is snow capped in winter and a bare slab of rock in summer. Climbing group tours ascend the backside of the mountain, to view the Chilliwack valley from the peak.

The corn and grass feed the large dairy herds found in the valley, and you can buy delicious Sweet Chilliwack corn from roadside stands. There is a self guided circle farm tour of local farms and markets to sample the delicious products from cheese to honey.  Eating local has become a big movement, providing fresh lower cost produce, due to reduced transportation costs.

Chilliwack – Fishing for Salmon and Sturgeon

Chilliwack is famous for Sturgeon and Salmon fishing. Sturgeon fishing is a catch and release fishery, what would you do with a 1200 lb, 12 ft long Sturgeon anyway? Sturgeon come in all sizes, but it is quite common to catch fish over 300 lbs and even the small 100 pounders can put up quite the fight.  

The local fisherman often call them mud marlin for their aerobatic performances when hooked. Fishing for the  5 species of salmon that migrate up the Fraser river and its tributaries is exceptional. The Vedder and Chilliwack rivers are famous for some of the best and most consistent steelhead fishing in the world.

Gasoline Alley for coffee, chocolate and art in Fraser Valley.
Gasoline Alley for coffee, chocolate and art in Fraser Valley.

Fishing Charters

There are dozens of charter operators that will take you out on the river for a day of fishing with a guarantee of fish. There is nothing like the thrill of blasting up the river in a  jet boat and watching for eagles along the river banks. The fun of hooking a salmon or gigantic sturgeon is a bonus.

Eaglefest is a celebration of the return of the largest gathering of eagles in the world. The eagles gather in the thousands  on  the sand flats at the confluence of the Chehalis and the Harrison river in November to feast on salmon.

This is an event not to be missed if you are in the area in mid November.  Charter boat tours for this world famous event, with renowned eagle biologist David Hancock tour the river,  for closeup photo opportunities. First nations take part in eaglefest celebrations, with smoked salmon and other treats and crafts for sale.

Hiking Trails 

The hiking trails in Chilliwack include everything from level winding paths along the Vedder river, that are wheelchair accessible to major mountain ascents for professional climbers. Mountain bike trails lace the Chilliwack valley and the eastern hillsides above town.

The farm roads with sparse traffic, that crisscross the valley, are perfect for road riding. There are  several craft breweries that can supply a cold beer after a hard day riding, hiking or fishing.

Chilliwack is Home to the University of the Fraser Valley and attracts a large foreign student population. The community also attracts industry, because of good access to transportation and low land cost, making it an economical choice for companies looking to relocate.

Exploring the Fraser Valley is a wonderful experience, if you have the opportunity, take it, for a day or a week, you will have a great time. Once you visit you will want to retur n.

David Lee

David Lee is a retired business owner, who now does tax consulting and business consulting in Chilliwack, BC. His photos have been published in Outdoor Photography Canada, Birding Daily and other outlets. Visit his website.

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