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Mountains, Mountain Parks, and Foothills Region

In 1913, commissioners were appointed to represent the two provinces and the Dominion Government during the surveying of the boundary. This survey was to mark the boundary on the ground and also to connect the boundary to the Dominion Lands Survey which had extended from western Ontario to the Rocky Mountain foothills. R.W. Cautley of the Alberta Lands Survey was appointed to represent Alberta and to take charge of the surveying party that would take levels and make a preliminary survey of the boundary in various passes and erect permanent boundary monuments therein. A.O. Wheeler of the British Columbia Land Survey was to represent British Columbia and to take charge of the topographical portion of the survey that concentrated on the delineation of the watershed along the main range from the International Boundary northward to its intersection with the 120th Meridian West. J.N. Wallace of the Dominion Lands Survey represented the Dominion Government until 20 September 1915, when Alberta's representative, Cautley, took over that duty as well. His job was "to visit each pass at such times as may be necessary to enable him to satisfy himself as to the correctness of the work."

To survey the rugged terrain, the surveyor employed the phototopographical method, which maps the natural watershed with greater accuracy than was permitted by any other method. Wheeler was experienced with this, as he had conducted phototopographical surveys of the Kicking Horse Pass-Railway Belt section in the years 1903 to 1906. The Dominion Lands Survey introduced this method in 1885 and developed it over the ensuing years. In 1920, Major E.O. Wheeler, Royal Engineer of the Survey of India, accompanied the expedition in order to study this method. He had been commissioned by his government to study the Canadian applications of this surveying technique in order to apply it within the high mountain areas of his own country.

On 18 June 1913, Dr. Edouard-Gaston Deville, the Surveyor-General of Dominion Lands, gave instructions at the start of the first season of the boundary survey. He listed the survey of the following passes as most urgent: Crowsnest (due to its proximity to mining properties); Vermilion (the site of a motor road); Howse (because of its proximity to timber claims); Kicking Horse, Simpson, and Whiteman (due to their proximity to populated areas.). Because of the short surveying seasons (from mid-June to mid-September), it was not until 1924 that the surveys of the passes and the Peace River area were accomplished. Progress was delayed by late and early snowfalls at the high altitudes, bushfires, difficult terrain, lack of roads and even trails, attacks by bears (fortunately only on equipment and survey monuments), and isolation. (The Commission report states that during winter activities on the Wapiti River, only one snowshoe track was seen, made by a solitary trapper named Osborne.)

The surveyors also named some features in the area of the survey. There were few established names and, in fact, there was some confusion about the names that were being used, not to mention the location of the features themselves. For example, Mount Hooker, originally named by David Douglas in 1827, was recorded as having an altitude of 4877 metres above sea level, despite the fact that Mount Robson, now known to be the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, has an altitude of only 4356 metres. In 1893, an expedition measured Mount Hooker at less than 3016 metres. In 1913, members of the Alpine Club (London) gave the name "Scott" to the mountain Douglas named "Hooker." The survey of 1920 under Wheeler was able to map the proper location of this mountain and restore its original name, "Mount Hooker," to official status. Only an extensive survey that accurately defines delineations between mountains can ensure the proper official names for features.

In addition to giving official confirmation to established feature names, the surveyors also put new names to some features that were part of their survey information. The sites of boundary monuments and distinctive features whose identification aided navigation were officialized to ease communication of the survey's information. The surveyors named features according to their physical appearances or after fellow surveyors.

Mount Bridgland (page 31), for example, was named in 1916 after Morrison Parsons Bridgland (1878-1948) of the Dominion Lands Survey. A note in the Report of the Commission states that his maps of the Crownest Forest provided "very adequate assistance" to the Commission. Born in Toronto, he first came west in 1902 as assistant to Wheeler. His impeccable mapping skills and tirelessness made him a renowned topographical surveyor in the Rocky Mountains.

In 1911 Wheeler named another pass, Colonel Pass (page 55), after Colonel Aime Laussedat (1819-1907), an engineer in the French army who was the originator of the science of phototopography so extensively used for survey purposes in mountainous regions. The "father of photographic surveying," he gave a full exposition of the method in his Memorial de I'Officier du Genie. A pass and creek in the area were also named after him.

In 1924, the survey of the interprovincial boundary was completed, except for about 280 kilometres stretching through the uninhabited country along the northern boundary of the two provinces. The hardy surveyors had triumphed against great hardship and difficulties of all kinds to draw the arbitrary but all-important lines that make order out of nature's flowing patterns.

Surveyors were sometimes also mountain climbers, and some of them organized and supported mountain-climbing associations, which, in turn, contributed considerably to mountain toponymy. The Alpine Club of Canada was founded in 1906. Its founder and first president was Arthur Oliver Wheeler (1860-1945), Dominion Topographic Surveyor and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. One of the first Honorary Members of the Club was Edouard-Gaston Deville (1849-1924), the Surveyor-General of Canada. Deville introduced phototopographic surveying into Canada, and Wheeler pioneered its application to the mapping of the Rocky Mountains in 1895.

Phototopographic surveying requires photographing from peak to mountain peak, creating an interrelated series of triangles tied to a previous land survey undertaken by conventional methods (in the Rockies, the base was provided by surveys of the Canadian Pacific Railway). A phototopographic surveyor must of necessity also become a mountaineer, and in the course of his work Wheeler became acquainted with mountaineers such as the Swiss guides who worked for the C.P.R. and others of The Alpine Club (London) and the Appalachian Mountaineering Club. It was from these last that Wheeler conceived the idea of forming the Alpine Club of Canada.

The first stated object of the Club in their 1906 constitution was "promotion of scientific study and exploration of Canadian alpine and glacial regions."2 The Canadian Alpine Journal (CAJ) from volume 1 (1907) to volume 52 (1969) contains special sections of scientific articles, many of them written by Wheeler himself. In 1911, the Alpine Club conducted an expedition to the Mount Robson region of British Columbia and from his own phototopographic survey, Wheeler, the expedition director, produced a "Topographical Map Showing Mount Robson and Mountains of the Continental Divide North of Yellowhead Pass" to accompany the Reports of the Alpine Club of Canada's Expedition 1911. On it appears this note: "The names on this map have not yet been passed by the Geographic Board and are subject to revision." From this it may be seen that the Club, through Wheeler, was aware of the toponymic work of the Geographic Board.

In 1919, the CAJ published an article on mountain names written by R. Douglas, M.A., Secretary of the Geographic Board, at the request of the editor of the CAJ .3 The editor appended a note to the effect that the Board welcomed name submissions. It was the editor's intention to make the membership more aware of the work of the Geographic Board. In 1964, again at the request of the editor, the CAJ published an article on the principles and procedures of the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (C.P.C.G.N.), written by J. Keith Fraser, Secretary of the Committee. Once more the editor urged the membership to submit new names to the C.P.C.G.N.4 Judging by the number of articles in the CAJ directly concerned with names, the membership responded slowly: there were two articles in the 1920s, none in the 1930s or 1940s, three in the 1950s, five in the 1960s, nine in the 1970s, and seven in the 1980s.

In the summer of 1921, Walter Dwight Wilcox, who had been an Honorary Member of the Club since 1909 because of his long acquaintance with the Rockies and because of the books on the mountains he had published between 1896 and 1909, and Alfred L. Castle, a lawyer from Hawaii, made an exploratory trip into the Valley of Hidden Lakes. Wilcox published an article about the trip in the 1923 CAJ, in which he stated that he and Castle named the valley and the three lakes in it after Castle's children, Gwendolyn, Donald, and Alfred, and that the names were approved by the Geographic Board.5 The only reference in Board correspondence is in a letter of 28 November 1922 from Charles D. Walcott, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, which includes a photograph of the valley, which he calls Douglas Canyon. Walcott states that Wilcox proposed the name "Valley of the Hidden Lakes," but "as it is a rather long name to be used in a descriptive geological paper, I am using the old name Douglas for it." He also says "I am using the name Gwendolyn for the small glacial lake in the great amphitheatre near the head of Douglas Canyon." (The name has since been changed back to Valley of the Hidden Lakes.) Neither name is mentioned in the Board's reply. All four names in Wilcox's article were approved 31 March 1965 by the C.P.C.G.N. on the recommendation of G.H.L. Dempster, Park Superintendent, Banff National Park.

With the publication of name origins and the development of official naming procedures came the opportunity to accumulate extensive records. The geographical names history of the Alberta foothills and mountains that emerges through those records expresses a collective heritage and an important part of our cultural landscape. Future volumes in this series will treat their respective specific study areas with a similar approach (see map on page xxiv) heralding the uniqueness of each territory. This map provides a province-wide National Topographic System grid for use in orienting the reader to finding a location. The nature of the environment has had a considerable impact on the nature of human activity in the region. On the other hand, individuals and organizations promoting a variety of enterprises have imposed certain clearly defined patterns onto the natural wilderness. In a panorama of stories from Indian occupation, through the fur trade, to the railway, mountain recreation, and resource development, the connection between culture and the environment is revealed in detail by thousands of geographical names.


2.Canadian Alpine Journal, vol. 1 (1907), p. 39.

3.Ibid., vol. 10 (1917), pp. 32-7.

4.Ibid., vol. 47 (1954), pp. 124-29.

5.Ibid., vol. 13 (1920), pp. 185 and 187.

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