It takes its name from the river and lake (to the southeast) named by explorer Simon FRASER after North West Company clerk Jules Maurice Quesnel, his companion on his 1808 journey of discovery down the FRASER RIVER. In Fraser's time, Quesnel was a summer fishing camp of the CARRIER people. Non-native settlement began in 1860 when the area became the best access into the Cariboo goldfields and BARKERVILLE to the east.
For many years Quesnel was a steamboat terminus and supply point on the upper Fraser. The log Hudson's Bay Company store, built in 1866, is still standing today. Farm settlement increased before World War I, and the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (later called the BRITISH COLUMBIA RAILWAY, and now owned by CN) reached Quesnel in 1921, opening up the region's rich forest reserves.
Forestry, mining and agriculture (mostly ranching) are the major industries in the region today, with some oil and natural gas exploration. Quesnel has a huge concentration of wood manufacturing industries and several smaller value-added wood operations. The city is the gateway to Barkerville Historic Town and Bowron Lake Provincial Park.