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The naming of the Akamina Pass

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The Rocky Mountains present a formidable barrier to any traveller trying to go west. So, it's not surprising early explorers followed the trails native Americans had established through the mountain passes they had discovered.

As historian Merrily Aubrey explains, there are two such passes in the Waterton Lakes region in the southwest corner of Alberta.

Akamina Pass is the most southerly pass through the Rocky Mountains, and is, for those who are statistically inclined, 1779 metres in altitude. It lies on the Canada - U.S. border. The name is, of course, Aboriginal in origin, and means High Bench Land. And, it's descriptive of the area's appearance.

The name was applied to a joint astronomical station that was established as early as 1861 by boundary surveyors, and is referred to in their report as, "Akamina camp and Astronomical Station."

Just to the north of Akamina Pass is South Kootenay Pass. It straddles the border between Alberta and British Columbia.

The Alberta - British Columbia Boundary Commission Report described this as a so-called pass, and merely a lower elevation of the water shed ridge, with no distinct gap.

It is noted on the Palliser Map as "Boundary Pass," but it has gained significance and title from the Aboriginal group [known] as the Kootenays, who formerly inhabited the Waterton Park region.

And in fact, in the 1890s, Waterton Lakes bore the name of this group, there was...North Kootenay Lake and South Kootenay Lake.

The Kootenays lived in the area during the pre-contact era. Although this route was the most difficult to travel through, it was the most direct path to the bison grounds at the base of Chief Mountain, just south of the 4th parallel.

Sir James Hector of the Palliser Expedition noted that the Kootenay Indians would also come through the pass onto the plain which now bears their name. And, it was here they would exchange furs with traders from Saskatchewan.

On the Heritage Trail, I'm Cheryl Croucher.


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