Nooyaz: A History of Prince George’s Little Island

By Alyssa Tobin | Curator At The Exploration Place
November 26, 2018 - 10:21am
View of the Fraser River and Railroad Island.
View of the Fraser River and Railroad Island. Photo Credit: The Exploration Place

Fluctuating river levels are all too noticeable these days with water levels on the Fraser River at an unprecedented low.

Located in the Fraser River near the confluence of the Nechako River, Goat Island, typically only accessible by boat, has become a popular local destination for visitors to walk over to and explore.

Known traditionally by the Lheidli T’enneh as “Nooyaz”, meaning little island and “Yun Hadet'ai”, meaning land that sinks, this small island has been significant in shaping the City of Prince George into the city it is today.

One of the earliest images of the island is located in The Exploration Place archives and features the fully treed island prior to any construction in the early 1900s.

It was in 1912 that the island was clear-cut in order to help build once of Prince George’s most iconic landmarks’ the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Bridge. At that time, the island was located farther upstream under the present day GTPR bridge. Gravel removal and natural erosion has since reduced its size and location to further downstream.

It was after this point that the Island became known as “Railway Island”. It housed more than 600 labourers who were working day and night, six days a week to complete the structure. This small island became home to bunk-houses for the workers, store-houses for supplies and a steam plant that provided heat for the camp and bridge construction. Sternwheelers travelling along the Fraser River were arriving from Tête Jaune Cache and delivering barrels of cement and construction supplies to the shore. It’s been estimated that approximately 1,700 tons of cement would have been needed for the abutment and first six piers of the bridge alone.

The construction camp was vacated after completion of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Bridge in 1914.

Flash ahead to the early 1930s and a goat farmer by the name of Jim Johnson began occupying the island. From then on, the island commonly became known as Goat Island. In May of 1932, he wrote to The Prince George Citizen and warned the public that ice jams were beginning to erode the east side of the island.

In June of 1936, the Fraser River broke the previous high-water mark record set in 1911 and the island became submerged with water. Jim Johnson had to evacuate the island with his goats on June 1st. By June 4th, the rapidly rising water (rising at a rate of half an inch per hour), carried away fence posts and eroded the island’s landmass significantly. Since then, the island has remained relatively vacant.

With such a fascinating history, it is no wonder that so many Prince George residents are taking the unusual stroll over to Prince George’s little island.

Known by many names, this small piece of land has not likely had so many different visitors since the early railway days when 600 labourers worked and lived on its sandy banks.

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