Canada’s Mountain Parks

Frank Yeigh March 1 1912

Canada’s Mountain Parks

Frank Yeigh March 1 1912

Canada’s Mountain Parks

Frank Yeigh

MacLean's Magazine

Vol XXHIIH T®IT®IB(1® ManreBn 11)11 Mo §

Canada’s system of Great Mountain Parks and Forest Reserves constitutes a national asset of incomputable value. Few Canadians, however, are familiar with its character and extent. There are seven great national parks and twenty-six forest reserves in the Dominion, the whole comprising a region “unparalleled for majestic mountain ranges, immense ice caps and glaciers, falls and cascades.” So says Mr. Frank Yeigh, the well-known writer and lecturer on Canadian Travel topics, who deals extensively with our Mountain Parks in the accompanying article.

EVEN as Canada’s mountain region is a heritage of hills such as few countries possess, so her vast mountain parks, among the largest in the world, are a national asset of incomputable value.

The recent setting apart of the Rocky Mountains Forest Reserve calls renewed attention to the series of national parks and forest reserves formed, with commendable wisdom and foresight, by the Canadian Government, in the mountain districts of Alberta and British Columbia. During the session of the Dominion Parliament of 1911, a new Forest Reserves and Parks Act was passed, covering no less than twenty-four parks and reserves, with an area of 16,760,640 acres, or nearly thirty thousand square miles—an extent of country more than equal to the province of New Brunswick.

These hold within their far-flung boundaries some of the world’s grandest scen-

ery, while conserving the sources of the great rivers that, finding their birth among the snow deposits of the continental watershed, course through Alberta and Saskatchewan. Life-giving streams they are, making habitable and productive the rich alluvial leagues of the prairie and carrying in their sweep of waters untold wealth for unmeasured years.


Of the national parks, as distinct from forest reserves, there are seven, namely: the Rocky Mountains Park, (Banff), with 1,800 square miles; the Yoho National Park, of 560 square miles; Glacier Park, 468 square miles; Jasper Park, 1,000 square miles; Elk Island Park, 16 square miles, the Buffalo Park, 101,760 acres; and Waterton Lakes Park, -13Va square miles. In addition, there are twenty-six Dominion Forest Reserves, number-

ing six in Manitoba, four in Saskatchewan, six in Alberta and ten in British Columbia.

Reserves and Parks combined constitute a region probably unparalleled for majestic mountain ranges, immense ice caps and glaciers, falls and cascades, from the noble Takkakaw, with its leap of 1,460 feet, to a multitude of smaller falls no less beautiful; white crested rivers rushing through canyon depths, forests of limitless extent, alpine meadows carpeted with a wealth of wild flower and plant life, and a wild life in bear and deer, in mountain lion, sheep and goat, in marmot and porcupine and many another four-footed denizen of the unpeopled spaces. Within these magnificent areas is to be found a vast playground, where, during the season, ideal climatic conditions exist, and where nature is revealed in all her variant moods of storm and clear sky, of shower and rainbow spanning lofty peaks, of sunrise and sunset that flood the scene with a glow of glory.


The Forest Reserves and Parks Act of the Parliamentary Session of 1911, views all the park reservations as forest reserves, under restrictions as to surface occupation and regulations and as to the protection of

streams and timber. The Act in question differs from former legislation in that any portion of the area included in the forest reserves may be placed under the additional restrictions or provisions which would enable any particular area to be used as a park or pleasure resort. It further contains an advanced policy regarding utilization of timber for the use of settlers, and the reforestation or continued forestatiori of the land, or, in the words of the then Minister of the Interior, “The economic utilization of the timber which is useful for commercial purposes, and the reproduction of timber so that there will be a continuous supply.” The new regulations further safeguard park and reserve for their use, in perpetuity, of the people for purposes of recreation, with no further places of business than what may be necessary. All forest reserves, in addition, under the new Act, may be constituted game preserves—no homesteading will be permitted, and no private ownership or alienation of surface rights will be allowed.

This great sixteen-million acre sweep of country contains, moreover, natural resources of minerals and timber of a value undreamed of. Waterpower sites alone exist by the score if not by the hundreds, and on the foothills are immense stretches of grazing lands. Every Canadian will re-

joice that such a wide stretch of country is safe for all time in this our Switzerland from alienation by private ownership and the hope that even greater areas will, in the near future, be brought under similar government control.

The Rocky Mountains Forest Reserve is the official name of the recent reservation. The setting apart of this three million acre area, completes, along with previous reservations, the withdrawal from settlement or exploitation of practically the entire eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, from the United States boundary to a point two hundred miles west of Edmonton; or an area of 350 miles long and from ten to fifty miles in width—one of the largest, if not the largest., mountain park area in the world.

The reserving of such an expanse of territory is specially important because it is in part a timbered area lying alongside of a prairie country hundreds of miles in extent which is almost devoid of trees. The forest, consisting of pine, spruce, fir and other species, clothes the mountains to a height of 6,000 or 7,000 feet. A large part of this watershed has suffered severely by fire in the past, but in most places the natural reproduction is abundant, and proper protection in the future from fire will go far towards re-establshing the forests.


The Conservation Commission of Canada has been quick to recognize the necessity and importance of this governmental policy. As its chairman, Hon. Clifford Sifton, says, “I need not point out the necessities of the great Provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in this matter. The rivers that water these provinces take their rise in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. If the forest is absolutely removed from these slopes—as it will be in a very short time (less than a generation if not protected)—it goes without saying we will have nothing but destructive floods in the spring and practically no water at all in the summer. The continued production of the great Provinces of Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan depends absolutely, in my judgment, upon the preservation of these forests. And that can only be done by making the whole eastern slope a permanent reservation, as has happily now been done.”

The ranges that form the eastern boundary of our mountain land are strikingly beautiful as viewed from the prairie. Half a hundred miles away, their serrated summits stand out in striking relief against the farther sky. The cliff-enclosed valleys in-

vite exploration as the heights lure the mountain climber to this marvellous sea of hills.


The world now knows of Banff and its National Park Reservation, its official title of “The Rocky Mountains Park” being less well known. The visitors during a single season approximate a hundred thousand, hailing from every continent and country. Banff has, indeed, become a recognized stopping place on the worldencircling travel route, and the rotundas of its hotels are the rendevous of a cosmopolitan throng of sight-seers and globetrotters.

Nor will Banff disappoint the pilgrim. The entrance into its heart of beauty, through the rocky ramparts of the Kananaskis Pass, is dramatic in the extreme, made doubly so by the transition from the journey across the plains of three great provinces.

Nature kindly provided the valley of the Bow River as a right-of-way into and through the Park, within whose bounds are found scores of ranges and half a hundred noble peaks in the Three Sisters and

Cascade, in Rundle and Edith, and many another, with a glimpse to the south of the Matterhorn pinnacle of Mount Assiniboine, “a kingly spirit throned among the hills.”

The Banff Park contains almost every type of mountain scenery—the matchless lakes among the clouds—Louise, Mirror and Agnes—high above Laggan, with their sheltering giants of the Cordillerean range. Roads and trails and waterways admit of extended exploration. An excellent highway now connects Banff with Calgary on the east, providing a path for the ubiquitous motor car. A new road is being built from Banff to Laggan, 35 miles, and a branch road is contemplated from Castle Mountain, westward to Vermilion Pass, which will connect with one constructed by the British Columbia Government from the Columbia Valley to the British Columbia boundary line. It is intended that a road will eventually be opened to the Pacific coast, constituting a motor route of outstanding extent and interest.

Other trails lead to winsome Lake Louise and the wonder valleys of Paradise and the Ten Peaks. Of all the delightful pos-

sibilities of the Park, none excel the sheer joy of “hitting the trail” with a sturdy little Albertan broncho as a mount and good company as a fill-up to comradeship and human intercourse.

Near the village of Banff the animal life of the mountains may be studied at close hand. Nearly a hundred specimens are within the wire-fenced run. Splendid buffalo and deer, goats and sheep and antelope roam at large in the enclosure, emphasizing the fact that all the national parks are becoming game preserves. The Banff enclosure has the only full-grown Rocky Mountain sheep in captivity. Wild animal life is now more frequently seen near Banff. The apparently inaccessible cliffs are still the haunt of the Rocky Mountain sheep and goat, while Bruin, brown and shaggy, lives an undisturbed life amid the sheltering hills, and an occasional swift-footed antelope wanders at will over pass and pasture.

The Government Museum at Banff— the “Little University in the Hills” as it has been characterized, contains an interesting collection of specimens of big game and lesser mammals, and of fish and game life, while the herbarium suggests the botanical and geological riches of the land, and the aviary adds to the manifold attractions of the little capital city of the

Park. When winter sports are more fully developed, as is gradually being done, Banff will be more than ever an all-theyear around centre of attraction.

The rustic home of the Alpine Club of Canada, occupying an elevated site on the slope of Sulphur Mountain, suggests the excellent work of that new but thriving organization. Annual summer camps are held within the Banff and other parks, when hundreds of nature lovers spend a few delectable days among the hills, many of whom indulge in that king of sports, mountain climbing, and drink in something of the grandeur and beauty of a land of glacier-sheathed mountains, of mirroring lakes and deep-hearted woods— a land where eidelweiss and heather, forget-me-nots and wood anemones, blue-bells and ferns convert the valleys into flower gardens, making it a world in which it is good to live.


Adjoining the Banff Park reservation on the west is the Yoho Park Reserve, of 828 square miles, another remarkable alpine tract, including the Yoho Valley and the towering ranges of the continental water-shed. Carriage roads have been built from Field into the Valley, and pictur-

ftsque trails make possible the exploration of one of the most attractive regions in the West. Falls abound, ranging from the lofty Takkakaw, whose leap of nearly fifteen hundred feet makes it one of the wonders of the continent, and the Laughing and Twin Falls, to wild little unnamed cataracts, rushing tumultuously to join the waters of the Yoho river. Alpine meadows nestle under the lee of towering rock walls and beside the winding trails, and everywhere superb views are obtainable of the mighty rim of mountains. At one point on the upper trail the entire fifteen miles of the Yoho canyon is suddenly revealed at a glimpse, with its perpendicular rock walls dropping a sheer thousand feet, and along the bed of the valley a shining streak of silver denotes the circuitous course of the Yoho River flowing toward the Kicking Horse Canyon and River. To traverse the tree-lined avenue to Emerald Lake, to climb the steep ascent to Emerald Glacier and Summit Lake, to follow the meanderings of the Upper Trail to the head of the Valley and the Wapta Glacier, to camp by the Yoho and within sound of the Laughing Falls, to feast eye and mind and spirit on the surrounding panorama, is to fill the hours so full of satisfaction as to ensure

the sweetest of memories for all the other hours of a mortal span of life.


Journeying still further westward the transition from the Rockies to the Selkirks brings the traveler to Glacier Park, where Mount Sir Donald reigns as the Alpine monarch and where the Illecillewaet and Asulkan Glaciers represent what is left of the great ice caps of a past age. Here, again, trails have been cut in every direction. One of the recently made ones involves a journey of fifteen miles to the Cougar Caves and Rogers Pass. This pony route to the caverns is one of constant surprises. Vision after vision of near and distant peaks hold the eye in thrall as the ascent is made, and as Mount Sir Donald seems to tower higher and higher, making pygmies of the buttressing foothills.

In one direction the fifty-mile course of the Illecillewaet Valley comes within view, tiny puffs of steam and smoke revealing trains that are curiously toy-like in perspective. No less beautiful is the Cougar Valley, guarded by the four-peaked Cougar Mountain, opposite which is the cave world, with its wierd rock caverns eaten out by water erosion during inconceivable centuries. To plunge from a

world of sunlight, and a realm of the magnificent in nature into subterranean darkness is in itself a sensational change of scene, while the roar—now distant—now near—of the imprisoned waters, leaping in successive Niagaras to lower levels, makes doubly awesome the journey down the steepest of ladders and over log bridges to Infernos and Chambers many. Strange limestone walls thrust themselves forward as if scenes in a theatre, their faces bearing curious carvings in which inanimate nature imitates the world of nature in growth. Lofty ceilings, only dimly shown by the flickering lamps, leap into more substantial form with the burning of magnesium wires, the rock crystals throwing back a glittering response. Hours may be spent in following the erratic course of the hidden torrent through chambers of blackness, and when emergence is finally made into the arena of the sunlit world, one welcomes and appreciates anew sun and sky and grass-carpeted earth. And when the trail route is followed to Bear River and over the Hermit Range, when massive Cheops is encircled and Sir Donald again sweeps into line of

vision, the wonders of Glacier Park are reimpressed on the mind.

The Waterton Lakes Park Reserve in the Kootenay Lake country of Southern British Columbia, while one of the smallest reserves in area, including only fiftyfour square miles, is yet one of the most charming sections of Canadian mountain country. Nothing more beautiful in lake and mountain scenery can be imagined, and a sail over the blue water of the chain of Kootenay lakes is reminiscent of the English Lake district or the west coast of Scotland, excepting that the nature framing of the Canadian picture is on a more colossal scale. Busy mining towns and rich working mines dot the banks of the lakes and line the radiating valleys. Bench lands have been converted into fruit farms and ranches, and on every hand are evidences of prosperity amid scenes of sylvan beauty of lake and aweinspiring hills.


If all reports be true, and the adjectives do not call for discounts, Jasper Park Reserve—another of Canada’s newest moun-

tain playgrounds of 5,000 square miles— is an almost entirely unexplored territory, and a region of unrivaled alpine scenery which the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway will soon make accessible. Through the heart of the park runs the Athabasca River, enclosed on either side by stately peaks, whose snow-sheeted summits make a never-to-be-forgotten nature canvas. The prairie stretches bordering the mighty stream constitute a picturesque valley that adds a note of variety to the wonderful landscape.

The towering hills of Jasper Park rise above the watershed of a continent wherein are the headwaters of five great rivers: the Saskatchewan, the Athabasca, the Thompson, the Columbia and the Fraser —two flowing eastward and irrigating the great plains; three chiselling their course westward until, overcoming nature’s great-

est obstacles, they lose their life in the Pacific. Around one on every hand are the giant ice caps that feed the quintette of streams and their innumerable glacial tributaries; above one rise the titanic rock masses of mountains, while near at hand, blue-watered tarns and white-sprayed cascades, alplands alive with flowers and valleys that call to their recesses, make Jasper Park a wonderland of wild beauty, havingnear its western boundary Canada’s highest peak in Mount Robson, 1.3,700 feet high, and, as a near neighbor, Mount Alberta, 13,500 feet high. “It is my belief,” says the Commissioner of Dominion Parks of Canada, “that Jasper Park will eventually outstrip all others in the Dominion in importance, and when the natural resources are looked into and developed it will become a source of perpetual revenue to the country.” During the summer of 1911 a

topographical survey party, under Mr. Arthur 0. Wheeler, F.R.G.S., was at work mapping out more fully this new park in the hills.

This vast and unsubdued alpine world of the north, hitherto remote as it has been, has yet an atmosphere of history and legend created by red man and halfbreed, by voyageur and coureur du bois, by fur trader and factor, and more recently by the lonely prospector and explorer. Within its spacious boundaries has been epitomized the evolution of the great loneland of prairie and mountain such as marks other regions of Alberta and British Columbia.

On the banks of the Athabasca are the ruins of Jasper House and Henry House, old trading posts of the Hudson’s Bay and Northwest Trading Companies in the days when a relentless mercantile war existed between the two.

Little did old Jasper Hawes, the Hudson’s Bay trader of 1800, dream that he should be immortalized a century after by having the region in which he had his headquarters named after him, or that a transcon-

tinental railway would lay its

tracks of steel

where only tracks of mountain ponies or wild game had been seen. And as

little did William Henry, the Northwest Fur Company man of a hundred y .ears ago, when he chose his charming site for a trad-

ing station at the headquarters of the Athabasca, forecast that his own company w’as doomed to disappear or that the trail to his log cabin would be a route for the prospector and the railway engineer, as the advance guard of a stream of travel soon to flow through the Pass of the Yellowhead.

Hard by the deserted cabins are the farms of a few plucky pioneers who, undeterred by the isolation and loneliness, have successfully engaged in agriculture where crop failures are unknown, thanks to the mild climate made by the chinook winds. But as all these parks are reserved from settlement, these squatters have, with one exception, been compensated, and have taken up land outside the park.

Patches of mature green timber mark the valley, but they are only remnants of the once great forest that existed. With the future protection and natural reproduction of the pine and spruce, reforestation may in a measure repair the damage of the fierce fires of former days, the last occuring at the time of the Yukon rush.

Nature has further provided Jasper Park with extensive hot springs on Fiddle Creek, the waters carrying a distinctly sulphurous odor and taste, and reaching a temperature of 127 degrees. To reach the springs at present involves a hard day’s travel over muskeg and windfalls, and the beauty of the scenery along the valley of the creek, under overhanging cliffs and beneath snow-covered mountains, make ample amends for the difficulties of reaching it.

A patrol of the Poyal Northwest Mounted Police, as well as four Dominion game wardens, have been established in the park, to provide for the protection of life and property and of the game, especially mountain sheep and goat, which were threatened by unlawful killing.


A governmental reservation, unique in area and purpose, is Buffalo Park, located near the Grand Trunk Pacific divisional point of Wainwright, 120 miles east of Edmonton. This stretch of typical rolling prairie country is the home of Canada’s great buffalo herd of one thousand, comprising practically all of the bisons left in a part of the continent where they once roamed in herds of thousands. 110,000

acres has been enclosed by a fourteen* strand wire fence, no less than seventythree miles in length, sufficiently high to safely hold the big animals. This fine, new prairie park is dotted by many lakes that give it a park-like appearance. As in former days, so now it is an ideal grazing ground for buffalo in a wild state, and where the conditions are favorable to their speedy natural increase. The action of the Dominion Government in securing the famous Pablo herd of Montana, and thus saving the animal from extinction, is a highly commendable one, with the result that Canada now possesses the last great herd of these lordly beasts. The interesting fact has been noted that game near Buffalo Park, when disturbed, will flv over the wire fence and settle in the park for protection.


One of the comparatively little reservations is the Elk Island Park, of 16 square miles, located at Lamont, in the Beaver Hills, some forty miles east of Edmonton. Tt was originally acquired by the Alberta Provincial Government as a forest and game preserve. Under the present policy of the Commissioner of Dominion Parks, a small number of buffalo are kept as a nucleus of another herd, with a considerable number of elk and deer.

One may repeat the hope that the new Government will continue and extend the policy of its predecessor in the matter of National Mountain Parks and forest reservations. It will prove an investment that will yield through the coming years rich dividends and the best of results.