The mid-19th century was an era of discovery and exploration on the western Canadian plains. While the Americans were busy trying to find a railway route to the Pacific, fur traders were exploring the possibilities of moving farther west, into Rupert's Land. The British, however, had commissioned Captain John Palliser to explore the plains and mountains in the west immediately above the 49th parallel. On his expedition he was to look for a way that would make it possible to reach the western plains by a route entirely within British territory. While exploring he would also map all of the regions geographic features - the geology, climate, flora, fauna, resources and most importantly its capacity for successful agriculture.
Palliser was the son of a wealthy Irish nobleman. Always the adventurer, he was a mediocre student and took most of his schooling abroad. He attended two years at Trinity College in Dublin but dropped out after only two years, never finishing his degree. For a time he was made a captain in his Father's regiment but saw no active duty. Restless in Britain, Palliser set off to the New World in 1847 and spent that year on the prairies hunting buffalo and observing the fur traders and Indians. When he returned to Britain, he wrote of his experiences in his book "Solitary Rambles and adventures of a Hunter on the Prairies". In 1856 he was no sooner made a member of the Royal Geographic Society than he had submitted to the Society a proposal to explore the southern prairies of the north in better detail. With the financial backing of the Colonial Office, Captain John Palliser put together an expedition team of scientific experts and set out for the prairies once again.
In May 1857 Palliser and his crew sailed for New York, embarking upon what is now known as the "Palliser Expedition" to map the geography, topography, accessibility and agricultural potential of Rupert's Land. When the expedition was completed, Palliser and his team of experts were required to report back to the British Government. Although Palliser did very little of the actual reporting, the three reports and map that were submitted to the Society and the Colonial Office provided the first comprehensive and unbiased account of the region. The Palliser Expedition reports not only opened the door to settlement, as they concluded the area to be suitable for settlement and agriculture (save for one, infertile strip of land that came to be known as Palliser's Triangle) they also became useful tools for the North-West Mounted Police, boundary surveyors, railway planners and fellow travelers. They mapped settlement and trade routes and outlined mountain passes suitable for railway passage.
The Expedition earned Palliser the Royal Geographic Society's Gold Medal in 1859 and helped open the door to settlement and development in the future province of Alberta.
Palliser remained an explorer for the rest of his life, travelling as far as Russia and the West Indies, however because he was always travelling he had no time to care for the family estates in Britain. He died at home in Ireland in 1887, having lost the family estate and a substantial amount of the family fortune.
Listen to the Heritage Trail:
177 - Kicking Horse Pass
Summary:This pass was named after an incident on one of the side trips taken by a member of the Palliser expedition.
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177 - Kicking Horse Pass
Summary: This pass was named after an incident on one of the side trips taken by a member of the Palliser expedition.