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Fraser was born just as the American Revolution was breaking out in Mapletown, New York. His father was in the British Army and was captured during the battle of Saratoga and died as a prisoner. Like many other loyalists families, Fraser's headed North to the remaining British Colonies and settled at Cadillac Quebec. Like many other young loyalists, Fraser was swept up by the Northwest Company at an early age and followed two of his uncles into the fur trading business.

He was sent west and spent 13 years in the Northwest Companies Athabasca Department where he go to know Alexander Mackenzie. He worked hard and did well and by 1801 at the age of 24 he was made a full partner in the company. Mackenzie's trips had opened up the West and North and Fraser was given the job of exploiting these new lands by setting up trading posts and generating business.

In the fall of 1805, Fraser established his first trading post called Rocky Mountain Portage House on the Peace River. He carried on throughout the winter and named the new lands west of the Rockies New Caledonia after his ancestral home in Scotland. He also established another trading post at Fort McLeod after traveling along the Pack River. He continued to oversee the establishment of trading posts and quickly built a network of posts and routes to expedite the gain of and transportation out of furs. In 1807 he established Fort George which later became Prince George and was ready by the spring of 1808 for his run down the river which bears his name - the Fraser.

Like Mackenzie, he too thought that the Fraser was actually the Columbia River and that he would reach the Pacific much further south. On May 28, 1808 he departed Fort George with 24 men. Fraser was careful to build good relationships with the native people he met and traveled down the first part of the Fraser which was relatively smooth without incitement. From Lillooet on things began to change. The river became much rougher and in some places impassable by boat. He had to portage around these rapids and in some cases along sheer rock faces, to get downstream. When he reached present day hope the river opened up into a large valley and flowed gently down to the Straits of Georgia. The journey did begin to turn sour at this point due to one Indian band which was aggressive and attacked Fraser and his men. These were the Musqueam who lived in present day Vancouver. Fraser was forced to return quickly up the river where his ordeal was picked up on by previously neutral bands who had now become hostile. Fraser was able to get his men through this trouble and by August 6, 1808 they had returned to Prince George. Fraser knew that the river he had just travelled was not the Columbia because it's mouth was too far North.

Fraser spent another 11 years working for the Northwest Fur Company in which time he became embroiled in the Battle of Seven Oaks which was between the Northwest and Hudson Bay Companies. He was captured by the HBC forces and sent back East to stand trial. Once back East he was released and later acquitted of all charges. He returned to the Northwest but in 1818 he left forever and settled in Cornwell Ontario. He married in 1820 and had 8 children which reached maturity and lived a long life ending on August 18, 1862.

He was one of the last surviving partners of the Northwest Fur Company and served a brief stint as Captain in the 1st Regiment during the rebellions of 1837. Like Mackenzie and Thompson, Fraser was one of the true explorers who opened up the country and made Canada what it is today.