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Alberta Online Encyclopedia

No. 172: Mountain Passes: Athabasca Pass

The Athabasca Pass in the Rocky Mountains takes its name from the nearby glacier and River Athabasca that run into Lake Athabasca many hundreds of kilometres downstream. The name comes from the Cree word which describes the reedy delta at the mouth of the lake.

According to historian Merrily Aubrey, Athabasca Pass, which lies south of Jasper, was important to early fur traders.

It was discovered in the winter of 1810 by David Thompson. The fur trade route ran from Jasper House, which is located about 24 kilometres east of the present town site of Jasper, to the present site of Jasper, then along the Athabasca River to its junction of the Whirlpool River, then up the Whirlpool River to the summit of the pass, and down the Wood River to Boat Encampment at the big bend of the Columbia River.

From there, the Bateau brigades took their furs, trade goods and other products to Fort Vancouver, at the mouth of the Columbia River.

The Whirlpool River was a particularly difficult part of the route. It was named in 1859 by Sir James Hector of the Palliser Expedition, and he named it after the numerous eddies in the river.

But in the days before the railway, it was a route that had to be endured.

I mean, actually, if you thought about it, it would take you through the mountains al the way from Hudson's Bay, right? Hudson's Bay, through the plains, up north, down south, and through the mountains.

The point at which the trail branched-off from the Athabasca River, to follow the Whirlpool River and across the pass, is now marked by a monument showing maps and giving a very detailed description of this route.

The Athabasca Pass is 1737 metres above sea level, and it lies on the border between Alberta and British Columbia.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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