TWU student paddles Salmon River to TWU, as early Hudson’s Bay explorer James McMillan once did

Langley, British Columbia—It may be an unusual way to get to school. But this year, Trinity Western University student Mike Ellis saved on fuel and avoided Langley’s traffic by canoeing 15 minutes up the Salmon River to attend classes on TWU’s campus. His canoe trips were peaceful and serene, although sometimes challenging. And they were perhaps a bit reminiscent, aside from traffic buzzing alongside the river, of how Hudson’s Bay explorer James McMillan arrived on the grounds of TWU’s current site during his expedition in the 1800s.

“One hundred years ago the Salmon River used to be like our Trans-Canada Highway—it was the transportation corridor for the whole region,” explains Bruce Shelvey, PhD, professor of history at TWU. “The river courses with history.”

It was in the early 1800s when the Hudson’s Bay Company sought to expand their trading company to the northwest, and commissioned James McMillan to discover a suitable location for the fort. Near the end of the strenuous trip north, McMillan and his crew set up camp at present-day TWU while portaging between the Salmon and Nicomekl rivers.

“The Salmon River immediately took on heightened importance, not only for its provision of salmon, but also as a major centre point,” shares Shelvey. “From here they could access not only the northern area of the coast, but also the southern area into Puget Sound for example.”

And while the Hudson’s Bay Company launched Fort Langley to meet a growing demand in the trading market, more than a century later, Trinity Western University founders broke new ground near the same place to meet a growing need for a faith-based university that would prepare integral leaders for all marketplaces.

Today, standing just outside of the campus entrance is a memorial commemorating the place where McMillan and his crew once pulled up their canoes—a reminder of the historical ground where TWU was established in 1962. And on TWU’s property stands a dormitory named after McMillan in honour of the early explorer.

The landscape has changed quite significantly since McMillan set up camp, and the river is now a peaceful waterway instead of a busy transport route. But some, like TWU student Mike Ellis, are beginning to take notice of the historical river once again.

“I think what’s happening is more people discover the river and explore it—it’s almost like McMillan coming down the river one more time. They’re beginning to see a new importance for the river and for the region,” notes Shelvey. “We’re finding out things we never knew about our local history.”

And more practically adds Ellis, “It’s actually the fastest way to get to school.”

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling over 3,000 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2007-09-26