History of Quesnel - Page 2

In 1865 the Collins Overland Telegraph reached Quesnel. This was an attempt to construct a line from California to Moscow to provide telegraph communication between North America and Europe. The project was abandoned in 1866 when a cable was successfully laid across the Atlantic, but the line south of Quesnel was maintained, providing an important communication link and the telegraph trail provided an important route north. As a result Quesnel continued to play a role as a supply centre for northern exploration, resource extraction and settlement. This was enhanced by the construction of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway which reached Quesnel in 1921. Due to difficulties bridging the Cottonwood River, Quesnel remained the Northern terminus until 1952 when the line was connected to Prince George and the Canadian National Railway. The opening of the Cariboo Gold Quartz Mine in Wells brought further prosperity to Quesnel when much of Canada was suffering through the Depression.

Although the timber industry had always been a part of the economy, it had largely been for local use: building construction, firewood and, during the construction of the PGE, railway ties. During WWII birch was harvested to manufacture plywood to build the Mosquito Bomber. A 1942 article reported that the Pacific Veneer Company of Burnaby was the largest manufacturer of airplane veneer in the British Empire and half of their birch supply was shipped from Quesnel. In 1945 there was a boom as buyers came to town to purchase pit props for the coal mines in Wales. The forest industry expanded rapidly with improved transportation, growing markets in the United States and the development of pulp and plywood products. In 1948 there were 33 registered sawmills within a 30 mile radius of Quesnel. By 1952 there were 180, plus 5 planer mills. As the decade progressed the number of mills declined as operations were consolidated into larger companies.

A bridge spanning the Fraser River was constructed in 1929. This resulted in the growth of the community on the west bank of the river. The village of Quesnel and West Quesnel amalgamated in 1955 and achieved town status in 1958. The municipality gained greater powers to borrow and finance local infrastructure projects, including paved streets and electric street lights, a new water system, a municipal hall and arena. Provincial initiatives included a natural gas line, consolidated high schools with improved facilities and the GR Baker Memorial Hospital.

The growth of the mills attracted a new immigrant population, primarily from India. By 1973 the Indo-Canadian community was large enough to construct a Sikh temple. They invested in property, came to play a significant role in the hospitality industry and enriched Quesnel's cultural life.

The community continued to grow and in 1979 became a City. Today, Forestry is the leading industry with two pulp mills, five sawmills, a plywood and a MDF plant, plus several smaller value-added manufacturing operations. The City's main industrial area is the most concentrated wood products manufacturing area in North America. Agriculture, mining and tourism continue to be important sectors in Quesnel's economy.