While Mission's name reflects the religious roots of its 19th-century founding, this agricultural Fraser Valley community has a rich history dating back thousands of years to First Nations inhabitance.
Today, visitors can learn more about Mission's past at its numerous historic and heritage sites.
The First Nations
For centuries, the Sto:lo aboriginal people resided in the Mission area, farming, hunting, trading, and fishing for salmon in the Fraser River. The site of the former Coast Salish village is believed to be 9,000 years old. Currently a national historic site, it's the location of British Columbia's oldest dwelling.
Shortly after the Fraser River Gold Rush that led to the founding of British Columbia in 1858, the first European settlers arrived in Mission. They were Catholic priests, known as the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
Missionary Leon Fouquet founded St. Mary's Mission in 1862. Mission was also unfortunately the location of the first residential school for aboriginal people in BC. By 1883, the church and school had relocated from the banks of the Fraser River to the site of today's Fraser River Heritage Park.
Mission Starts to Expand
When the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) arrived in Mission in 1885, it was a great boost to the community, which by now included farmland, a sawmill, a post office, and other tokens of civilization. Mission was the first BC community linked to the United States by train.
The next big step was the development of the Mission City townsite by entrepreneur James Welton, who bought land from locals, erected buildings, and sold lots in an 1891 auction. That same year, a bridge was built across the Fraser River, connecting Mission to neighbouring communities.
In the first of several steps in its civic evolution, Mission City was incorporated as a municipality in 1892. A Board of Trade was established the following year. Paddlewheeler riverboats on the Fraser River increasingly brought supplies to the young community, which would continue into the 1920's. The Mission City News, the town's first newspaper, commenced publishing in 1893.
Mission in the 20th Century
Landmark moments, good and bad, put Mission on the map in the 20th century. For instance, 1904 saw BC's first train robbery near Mission, the handiwork of the notorious outlaw Bill Miner. In 1909, the Power House at Stave Falls was built, and that hydroelectric generator would continue to supply power for British Columbia with its mighty turbines until 2000. It still exists as an interactive museum today.
Mission's agricultural sector continued to expand with dairy, fruits, and vegetables. At one time, Mission was dubbed the "Strawberry Capital of the World." Japanese farmers were particularly active in berry farming, but that trend ended in 1942 when many were tragically sent to internment camps during World War II.
Mission survived a natural disaster in 1948 when rising waters on the Fraser River overwhelmed the dykes and caused a huge flood. In 1954, Westminster Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, was erected with its hilltop bell tower, creating Mission's most visible man-made landmark.
Today, the culture and economy of Mission consists of an intriguing mix of everything from tree farming and sturgeon fishing to music festivals and agri-tourism. There's much to discover in this friendly community on the Lougheed Highway an hour east of Vancouver.