In the 1870s, the growth of ranching on the middle Fraser and Lillooet rivers was stymied by a lack of access to the most important market for meat: the Canadian Pacific Railway construction crews. Cattle were driven to their purchasers for butchering. To facilitate their overland travel, the young province of British Columbia explored the Coast Mountains between Pemberton and the Lower Mainland for possible routes.
One of these pathways began on the flats of the Alouette, then called Lillooet River, in Pitt Meadows. Although the country between the headwaters of the Alouette and the (Pemberton) Lillooet rivers was very rugged, the Katzie and Lil’wat nations had long engaged in trade of goods and kin along a historic trail that cut between the Alouette, Stave, and Lillooet watersheds.
The following letter was submitted by a government surveyor to the provincial official responsible for lands. The route described was not chosen for the Lillooet Cattle Trail, which eventually had a short life via Squamish, but helps explain the naming of the two Lillooet rivers.
May 22nd, 1877
In accordance with you instructions I have explored from Pitt Meadows, in the direction of Pemberton Meadows and have hereinwith forwarded a rough sketch, giving altitudes, and approximate distances.
I am confident that this is the only practical route from Pitt Meadows. All the passes from the head of Pitt Lake being as high if not higher, and the heavy expenses in constructing a trail around Pitt Lake would preclude that route from being adopted.
The cost of constructing a trail by the route marked in red and yellow will be about the average of trail making in the mountains (probably a small percentage lower) part being very heavy and expensive, while by far the greater portion being easy of construction.
There are two summits to cross, the first 1225 feet; 2nd 2950 feet. The descent of the first summit to Stave Lake, very steep and rocky.
The last ½ mile of the ascent from Stave River to the 2nd summit, also very steep and rocky. The descent to the mouth for ½ a mile is steep but not rocky.
The altitude of the route marked in yellow is about the same as the one marked in red, if not higher.
The reason I did not explore this line through was that when at an altitude of 2000 feet, the pass then being very steep and rocky, continued so as far as we could see from the mountain side.
IO came to the conclusion that this could not be the pas spoken of by an old Indian as being so low of altitude and easy of ascent. I then returned and explored the main valley, and continued the red line route.
I am confident the pass is as high if not higher [sic] than the red line, but should it be decided to construct a trail in this direction, I would advise that this pass be examined through and compared with the other for distance, cost of construction &c.
It will be impracticable to cross the Lillooet River so as to make the present waggon [sic] road from Douglas available, the current being so swift that it would be dangerous to swim cattle across. I did not examine the route any further than about 10 miles above its intersection with the Lillooet River, but from information I am satisfied that there are no serious difficulties to contend with in constructing a trail around Lillooet Lake to the waggon-road [sic].
The only feed worth mentioning is at the head of Stave Lake, that being limited. There are two Beaver meadows, one about 5 miles from the second summit, the other on the summit. The distance from Maple Ridge to Pemberton is about 125 miles, and the total distance from Maple Ridge to Lillooet is 190 miles about.
I have the honor to be Sir your obedient servant
To [?] Geo. Vernon
Chief Commissioner of Lands & Works