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Mountain Passes

The Rocky Mountains present a major obstacle to any traveller trying to go west to British Columbia. So it's not surprising early explorers followed the trails Native Americans had made through the mountain passes they had discovered. 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 it is, for those who are statistically curious, 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 is 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 reports 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. 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, before the Europeans came to Alberta. Although this route is the most difficult to travel through, it was the most direct path to the buffalo grounds at the base of Chief Mountain. In 1858, 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.

To learn more about the Rocky Mountains click here.