MANY years ago the Government of Canada wisely inaugurated the policy of establishing great national parks within the Rocky mountains, thus
guaranteeing to the nation in perpetuity a sense of absolute ownership, and a free access to the beauties of the priceless heritage in the mighty alpland, wherein little Switzerland, the playground of Europe and the delight of mountaineers, might be lost.
The first of these park reserves were named respectively, Rocky Mountain and Yoho, the former known now around the world because of the natural
beauties tributary to the great sanatorium at Banff ; and the latter because of the majestic grandeur of the Selkirks, which are upreared within its confines. These two parks, however, include but a comparatively insignificant area of the vast alpland of Canada, which beyond a narrow strip on either side of the main line of the C.P.R., is practically an unexplored and virgin wilderness, abounding in scenery magnificent and sublime. Hitherto these two parks have afforded sufficient scope for the cosmopolitan army of mountaineers and the Alpine Club of Canada in their strenuous but ennobling sport, unfolding each year some new wonder, some fresh delight, some added charm which enthrals the sight-seers of the world and brings them back in each recurring season in ever-increasing numbers.
Now, however, new tourist areas within the hitherto inaccessible, defiant ranges of the north, immense, unnamed, unmapped and unknown, but which are believed to contain the climax of all that is rugged, massive and majestically beautiful in the Rockies, are shortly to be opened for exploration. They will be traversed by the two new transcontinental railways, the Grand Trunk Pacific and the Canadian Northern, which will pierce th e mountains through the Athabasca Valley and the Yellowhead Pass.
There, too, the Government has just established another mammoth park and forest reserve, which embraces within its confines 5,450 square miles of territory, co,uprising all the vast region within the watersheds of the Athabasca and the Saskatchewan rivers, and extending east from the great divide to the foothills. It will be known as Jasper Park, perpetuating the name of the famous old post of the fur trade, the ruins of which will be one of the chief points of interest in a historical way within the park.
To effect the formal occupation of the park it was necessary for Commissioner Douglas and party, of which
the writer was one, to make the arduous journey of 350 miles by pack train and saddle horse. The old trail is a historic one, closely associated with far western explorations, for over it journeyed Thompson and Mackenzie, Henry, Franchere, Simpson, Jasper Howse, and a score of others, who assisted in blazing the trails of civilization into Canada’s great hinterland. The country traversed is a dreary desolation, where for the most part nature has been wiped out of existence by forest fires, and where only grey, ghostly, dead timber remains to haunt the horizon.
The mountains first appear in indistinct outlines while still nearly 100 miles distant ; but it was from an eminence in the valley of the Athabasca (Mistahav Shakow Seepee) the Great River of the Woods, as it is known by the Crees, in distinction from the Saskatchewan(Mistahav Peakow Seenee') the Great River of the Plains, that we obtained our first real, magnificent view of the noble Rockies. Though they were still 40 miles awav, their battlemented heights, castellated towers, ramoarts and beetling precipices, over which occasionally frowned a phantom peak or a snow-turbaned giant, appeared to be in the tangible just-beyond. It was truly a glorious prosnect as they rose transcendantly beautiful through their shimmering, gauze-like veil of prismatic, hazy, specrum colors, with a strange admixture of desolate dreariness imparted by the bare, treeless slopes of the serrated peaks silhouetted against the clear, western sky.
The entrance to the valley of the Athabasca was plainlv discernible under the frowning eminences of Roche Perdrix and Roche Myette, the grim cyclopean sentinels which eternally guard the jasper portals of the pass. Those grand old warders can be discerned and recognized from the very limits of vision TOO miles eastward, owing to their peculiar formations. Roche Perdrix, or Folding Mountain, is an outstanding landmark, beckoning on the traveler to the beauties and
wonders of Nature beyond. In it the first range of the Rockies, a chain of pinnacles, pyramids and peaks, terminates in an abrupt precipice 3.000 feet high, and so sheer and clean-cut that it might have been split down at a single stroke, when those mighty masses were rent asunder, upheaved and piled in promiscuous, wild confusion. The awful convulsion of Nature, which has left an eternal impression here in the ferine fracture, arouses a feeling of reverential awe and makes frail, finite humanity shudder to contemplate it.
The Athabasca Pass at the entrance is about five miles wide, and presents almost every variety of landscape, from the flower-strewn prairie, and stretches of parkland and forests, to the most wild and rugged mountains. Five imposing peaks, which the old traders thought worthy of names, on that highway of the voyageurs, are ranged in a semi-circle as a grim phalanx of hoary warriors of the pass. These are Roche Perdrix, Roche My-
ette, Roche Ronde, Roche Suette and Bull Rush. The little amphitheatre of parkland which lies in the shadow of their majesty has as its centre and as its crowning effect, Brule Lake, a shallow, treacherous expansion of the Athabasca river. The landscape presents a picture so exquisite in its delicacy, so harmonious in its diversity of features, that it might be a dream of fairyland—the ethereal creation of a wizard’s wand.
It was a glorious sight as the setting sun burnished the mountain-tops with golden shafts and flaming, fervid hues, while a few vapory clouds floated lazily in the azure blue, beautified by iridescent, polychromatous tints of departing day. But it was grander still as the sombre shades of evening, with a violet haze, crept up to the pinnacles, and the softer shades of the autumn moon stole like a benediction of Nature upon her handiwork.
Ten miles south of this point on the headwaters of Fiddle Creek there is a cluster of magnificent mineral springs,
at an altitude of 4,200 feet above sea level, and 1,200 feet above the level of the pass. One set of springs has a temperature of 116 degrees, three degrees hotter than the springs at Banff sanatorium, and with a volume of about the same capacity. Another set further up the mountain has a temperature of 125 degrees.
Near those springs there is a series of wildly picturesque canyons, which follow the serpentine course of the brawling mountain torrent. The gnarled and wrinkled walls of solid rock rise to a height of about six or eight hundred feet, and occasionally their gloom is relieved by glimpses of snowturbaned peaks above and beyond. They are more picturesque than even the famous Fraser canyon on the C.P.R. route, and1 ultimately will be
converted into one of the great scenic sections of the park. There are also immense coal deposits in that vicinity.
Viewed from the western slope of Roche Myette, the valley of the Athabasca rivals the famous vale of Avoca. From the limit of vision on the west the noble Athabasca winds through the pass like a thread of silver, into Jasper lake, which lies seemingly at your feet, embosomed in a rich foliage of firs. From a southern direction, away towards Mount Dalhousie, and parallel with the Colin range, the Rocky river foams and surges along its tempestuous course to a junction with the Athabasca river at the head of Jasper lake ; while from the opposite direction the Snaring river careers down past Suette to the confluence. Away and beyond is a panorama of fascinat-
ing, diverse, bewitching beauties,
with a vista of lateral valleys from
which rises rugged range upon range and peak upon peak in endless variety of pleasing configuration, until the mind stands aghast at the immensity of things. The site of Jasper House, which can be discerned away in the distance on the opposite shore of Jasper lake, lends a touch of genuine historical romance to the scene where three waters meet.
From this point it is about twentyfive miles to “Swift’s,” as the homestead of the kindly old squawman, E. J. Swift, the presiding genius of the Yellowhead and Athabasca Passes, is affectionately known to everyone who travels that trail. Everywhere the path is begirt with mountains, which rise in almost monotonous configura-
tion and height, uniform, naked and brown, save where the grey ghosts of a forest, dreary and dead, stand marking the pathway of the terrible fires which have denuded the slopes of vegetation in years gone by. The one striking, remarkable exception is Roche a’ Bonhomme, with a peculiar wing, like a ridge of a house, running far out into the valley.
Swift’s homestead is located about six miles from the eastern end of the Yellowhead Pass, and about fifty from the summit, or 350 miles west of Edmonton by the trail. He has resided there with his Cree wife for seventeen years, far beyond the outmost fringe of civilization. During that time his generous heart and the code of honor on the frontier have made his name synonymous with hospitality from Edmonton to Fort George. It has yet to be said that he ever turned anyone away hungry if he had food to divide, and this he has not always had, though he is now independent.
Four miles beyond his home, at the base of the truncated cone of the Pyramid, lie the ruins of Henry
House, once the headquarters of the Northwest Fur Company in that section of the mountains. The ruins occupy the centre of a natural park on the banks of the Athabasca, a few miles from its source, and afford a peculiarly strategic point from which to view or visit many of the main places of interest within the reserve. Immediately across the Athabasca is the mouth of the Maligne river, draining lakes of the same name, which lie embosomed in the fastnesses and solitudes of the massively rugged Maligne range, 35 miles away. These lakes are regarded by competent authorities as the most beautiful place in the Rocky Mountains, if not, indeed, in the whole world.
The southern aspect from Henry House rests upon the main range of the Rockies, where Mount Geikie ( 11.000) towers aloft sharp, defiant and inaccessible. Southeast lies Simpson’s Pass, in which region of perpetual snow and glaciers is the real source of the Athabasca, though the turbulent torrent which sweeps out through those rocky gorges is known
as the Whirlpool. Directly upon the height of land in Simpson’s Pass is that pecular freak of nature, where “the relative position of the opposite waters is such as tos h$x.t hardly^ a parallel on tfyé earth’àrsùrfacê ; fof'ä' small lake, appropriately' known as the “Committee’s Punch Bowl,” sends its tribute from one. end to the Columbia* and from the other end to the Mackenzie.” ' The* Whirlpool river flows northerly? across the Buffalo prairie from th^ Punch Bowl to a junction with the Myette, where the latter surges down from the summit in the Yellowhead, and in their confluence two or three miles from Henry House the mighty Athabasca is born. From that point the railway surveys turn due west into the Yellowhead Pass, and proceed over the Great Divide. i
The site of Henry House, owing to its commanding position amidst those points of interest, beautiful surroundings arid rich alpine scenery, may be chosen as the townsite whereon will be built a great modern hotel as soon as the railways reach the park. It would be a charming location. However, old1 Jasper House, with its picturesque site on the Jasper lake 25 miles east, and its even greater historical past, is a rival for this distinction. i
The Athabasca and Yellowhead valleys have a really delightful and surprisingly equitable climate for a latitude of 53, and a flora and fauna equally surprising in their comprehensiveness. Fruit grows in luscious profusion; indeed, it is one of the most marvellous wild fruit countries on the continent. Raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, six different kinds of blueberries (vacciniums), currants, high and low-bush cranberries, cherries and dew berries flourish and bear most prolifically. The wild flowers .in season are said to be so beautiful and varied in species as to convert the valley into a veritable paradise for the botanist, while the naturalist may
revel amidst the wild animal life, which includes the beautiful ‘mouton gris,” or big horn, the mountain goat, coy and lithe; the elk, moose, caribou, jumping deer, the dreaded grizzlies, the brown and black bears, and many smaller1 animals. There are charms, too, for the scientist, in the rocks of every kind, condition and age, with formations to interest and entertain the student, surrounded by the scenery so soul-thrilling that it must inspire even the most indifferent to all that is wonderful and great in Nature.
The term “Yellowhead” is a relic of the days of the fur trade and the voyageur, perpetuating, as so many of their conferred names do, some characteristic of the country. It eternalizes the sobriquet of a famous Iroquois halfbreed hunter and trader associated with the posts in the pass, who because of his long, flowing yellow hair became known as “The Yellowhead.” His operations as hunter and trapper extended over the summit, as is evidenced bv the term Tete Jaune Cache (the Cache of the Yellowhead) near the headwaters of the Fraser, where he was in the habit of storing his furs. The term is now frequently but incorrectly applied to all the valley of the Athabasca, instead of the valley of the Myette.
Steps have already been taken by the Park Commissioner towards development of Jasper Park. Wardens and rangers, with a squad of mounted police, have been stationed there to enforce regulations and to institute a rigid protection of game and forests ; and this season trails to points of interest will be blazed, huts for mountaineers will be built, and plans prepared for a fine modern hotel and for a comprehensive topographical survey. When these are completed Jasper Park will be a national playground of which Canada may be proud.
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.