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Mountains, Mountain Parks, and Foothills Region

Totem Tower in the Mountain Region of Alberta. Romeo Montague was not, of course, thinking of the toponymy of Alberta when he asked his famous question, "What's in a name?" Alberta's place names have become so much a part of the landscape that we seldom stop to ask this question. Yet, toponymy, the study of place names, reveals a great deal about the fascinating history and unique cultural heritage of any populated region. Toponymic research is primarily concerned with the origins and meanings of place names. A geographical name unlocks a valuable store of information, not only as a key component of reliable maps and charts, but also as a reflection of culture and heritage and a clue to groups or individuals that have had an impact in an area.

Mutual sharing of information remains the focus of Alberta's Geographical Names Programme, and the purpose of this publication is twofold. Over the course of several years, much archival and field research has been conducted in this area of the province in order to provide accurate data for public use. Here, that information is made accessible in a major collection. So comprehensive is the range of information for so many names, however, that the refinement process is continual. Beyond presenting all the fascinating stories, therefore this book also invites those who may know more about any individual name to assist in the toponymic process by informing the Geographical Names Programme. Individuals with precious and sometimes guarded information are a vital resource to whom we owe great respect and from whom cooperation and help would be very much appreciated. Information may easily be entered by contacting the Alberta Geographical Names Program.

The formal process of geographical naming is a lengthy one, based on specific naming principles and procedures. It should be noted that the first function of geographical names is to ensure accurate identification of places. Recognition of the importance of rendering a correct spelling, use, and translation of a geographical name, as well as providing a generic definition of the type of feature it describes, led to the creation of the Geographic Board of Canada through Order-in-Council in 1897. Dedicated to the standardization of principles and procedures to be followed in naming geographical features, the Board has changed its centralized approach very little over the years. A name adjustment in 1948 to the Canadian Board on Geographical Names left provincial representation minimal. In 1961, however, the responsibility for geographical naming was left up to individual provinces and territories, though the necessity for the coordination of activities at a national level remained. Creation of the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names provided the opportunity for continued liaison between federal officials and the naming authorities of each province and territory, but provincial agencies like Alberta's Geographical Names Programme now research and maintain information on proposed names, name changes, and names previously established. Alberta's approach has drawn increasing attention to the cultural dimensions of the province's geographical names.

The accumulated Alberta research has shown that the connection between geographical naming and the development of an area is very close: as individuals develop, survey, and map a region, the need to give places specific names increases. Indeed, geographical naming both affects and reflects the culture of a place. Surveyors, chartmakers, cartographers, and businessmen all require familiar and common points of reference in order to continue their work, but in the choice of names they identify their landscape with their particular culture.

The specific area that this volume addresses, an area which contains the mountains, mountain parks and foothills of Alberta, has received names during exploration patterns unique to this kind of terrain. The study area is outlined on page xxv. The map located on this page is designed to aid the reader in locating in a general way some of the features, relative to nearby populated places, as they are described within the location information in the text. Many of the individuals and survey parties were commemorated in the names of various geographical features, and many of these names have survived over the decades. It is not surprising then to find the names of mountain climbers at the peaks of mountains; nor is it strange to have a name attached to an area because of a specific incident that occurred there, as at the Kicking Horse Pass (refer to page 131). The impact of the Hudson's Bay and North West Companies has been noted in names such as Simpson Pass (page 225), Mount Fraser (page 93), and McGillivray Ridge (page 159). This volume is a collection of names paying tribute to those individuals who contributed so much of their time and effort to a variety of enterprises in the area.

The history of Alberta is multifaceted, culturally and regionally. The mountain parks and foothills region of the province have a historically important and interesting heritage. The naming legacy left by the early fur traders such as Peter Fidler, the Palliser Expedition under John Palliser, the Dominion Land Surveyors who were charged with charting these vast expanses of land, and mountain climbers who recognized the majesty of the peaks and challenged them, reflects not just the men and their reasons for being in the West, but also the values of the societies from whence they emerged. Sir Sandford Fleming, a railway surveyor himself, noted the importance of retaining native heritage through toponymy. Through journals, diaries, and historical records left by these early antecedents, people of today and tomorrow have access to knowledge of the past and may come to appreciate the true significance to be found in the experiences of early Albertans.

The first white man to set foot in Alberta arrived on 11 September 1754. Anthony Henday, a fur trader associated with the Hudson's Bay Company, was sent west to make friends with the natives and report on their daily activities. Henday journeyed from Hudson Bay to what has since become known as Rocky Mountain House and was the first white man to see the main chain of the Rocky Mountains. David Thompson carried out his own surveys and explorations beginning in 1787. He became one of Canada's greatest surveyors and also had an active interest in the native peoples he met and stayed with on his journeys. Thompson gained and passed down valuable insights into Indian culture and customs of that time. During 1787, James Gaddy, of the Hudson's Bay Company, settled and developed some of the south-west portion of Alberta. Peter Fidler followed in 1792. He, like Thompson, was a close observer of the natives and was a trained surveyor whose notes and journals are valuable reference materials. The North West Company, represented by John MacDonald, James Hughes, and twenty others, established a post north of Fort Saskatchewan in 1795. In 1799, the North West Company established Rocky Mountain Post, and the Hudson's Bay Company answered by establishing Acton House nearby. Sir George Simpson, Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, traversed parts of western Canada with his Indian guide, Piche (since corrupted to Peechee), in 1841. In 1845, Father Pierre de Smet pursued his missionary calling through the Rockies from Oregon, leaving his mark and subsequently relating his impressions.

One of the first major exploration expeditions to the West occurred between 1857 and 1860 by order of the British Imperial Commission. The purpose of this expedition was to ascertain settlement potential, to explore the mountains for a possible traverse south of the Athabasca Pass, and to further the east-west connection of the Dominion of Canada. This mammoth task was headed by Captain John Palliser, the son of an Irish nobleman.

The Palliser Expedition, sponsored by the Colonial Office, was scheduled to last two years, but because of the vastness of the territory to be covered and the requirements set forward by both the British Government and the Royal Geographical Society, its duration was increased to three years - from 1857 to 1860. The territory to be covered was situated between parallels 49 degrees and 53 degrees north latitude and 100 degrees and 115 degrees west longitude. The expedition successfully documented the existence of twelve Rocky Mountain passes south of the Athabasca Pass.

Palliser was accompanied on this trip by Dr. James Hector, geologist and medical doctor, Mr. Eugene Bourgeau, botanist, Lieutenant Thomas Blakiston, astronomer, and Mr. John W. Sullivan, secretary. These men were expert in their given fields, but were adventurers at heart. Throughout the expedition, Hector and Bourgeau, in particular, would take side trips trying to cover as much territory as they could in as short a time as possible. On one of these side trips, Hector was kicked in the stomach by a horse while camped by a river that the group named Kicking Horse River. The river flows from the Kicking Horse Pass, where the Canadian Pacific Railway and Trans Canada Highway run today.

While Hector was exploring the area up the Bow River, Palliser and Sullivan went to look for the pass that he had discussed with James Sinclair ten years earlier. Palliser believed that the entrance to this pass was to be found via a tributary of the Bow River. He named the tributary the Kananaskis (page 129), after a native who had been struck with an axe and made a complete recovery. The trip through the Kananaskis Pass took them more than 1,740 metres above sea level, 510 metres above the old Hudson's Bay Company fort which was called "Peigan Post" but which was abandoned in 1834, and 645 metres above the Kootenay River. Palliser had no real proof that this was Sinclair's pass, but he knew he had crossed the mountains with horses and that the Columbia lay a short distance off through fallen timber, ravines, rocks, and gullies. Lack of time prevented further exploration.

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