A Tale of Two Cities
Until the latter part of the nineteenth century the region was virtually unknown to the white man, though scattered along the fiords and the rivers were the villages of the Tsimshian, Bella Coola and Kwakiutl, dependent on fish for their livelihood as most of their descendants are today. The first systematic exploration was carried out in 1859 and 1860 by Major William Downie, who was impressed by the potentialities of the Skeena
Valley as a transportation route. Five years later the "Collins Overland Telegraph", which was to link North America with Europe across the Bering Straits and Siberia, reached the Skeen a, but in 1866 came the news that a cable had been successfully laid across the Atlantic, and the project was abandoned. But many of the workers stayed to look for gold, which in due course was found on the upper Skeena, and by the seventies the rush was on. The riches of the Skeena, however, did not compare with those of the Yukon and the Cariboo, and, as elsewhere, frustrated prospectors turned to less colourful occupations: logging, farming or fishing, for the most part. By the 1890's fish canneries were being established at several points along the coast and the rivers. White settlement was firmly established by the end of the century.