This story was included a supplement published in the Aug. 3 issue of the Revelstoke Times Review celebrating Glacier National Park’s 125th anniversary.
In 2011, Canadians celebrate the 125th anniversary of Yoho and Glacier national parks and the centennial anniversary of Parks Canada, the world’s first national parks service.
The birth of Canada’s second and third national parks is inextricably linked to the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. Steel rails were laid across three mountain passes – Kicking Horse, Rogers and Eagle – providing access through seemingly impassable terrain and uniting the country from coast to coast.
The CPR developed Canada’s first mountain luxury hotels at the bottom of Kicking Horse Pass and near the summit of Rogers Pass. In 1886, two Dominion Park Reserves, Yoho and Glacier, were created to protect the area surrounding the hotels for tourists and adventurers. Along with Banff, these two parks became the foundation for one of Canada’s most enduring legacies: the world’s first national park service.
Nearly a century later, in 1962, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker further united Canadians when he tamped down the “last patch” of asphalt at the opening ceremony of the Trans-Canada Highway at the Rogers Pass Summit Monument in Glacier National Park.
For 125 years, Yoho and Glacier national parks have inspired art, science and adventure. In the early 1900’s, our understanding of the natural world was expanded by geologist Charles Walcott, who discovered the world’s most significant fossil find, the Burgess Shale and surveyor A. O. Wheeler, who mapped vast stretches of the Rocky and Columbia Mountains. Today, Parks Canada is an international leader in conservation.
While staying at Glacier house in 1887, the Vaux family began the first glaciology and botany studies in Glacier National Park while photographing the Illecillewaet Glacier. Their photographs and notes remain invaluable to today’s study of glaciology and climate change.
Mary Vaux Walcott was an accomplished botanist, glaciologist, mountaineer, painter and photographer. Throughout her life, Mary painted over 1,000 plant specimens, which were eventually published in five volumes entitled North American Wildflowers – the ‘must have’ guide for early North American botany enthusiasts.
The splendour of areas like Lake O’Hara and the Illecillewaet Glacier has been the muse of many artists, including Lawren Harris and J.E.H. MacDonald of the Group of Seven. From 1885 until the 1960s, the CPR commissioned artists to create advertisements and brochures that lured travellers to their mountain hotels and oceanic ships.
Adventurers have always been drawn to the parks’ challenging wilderness landscape. Glacier and Yoho National Parks, once described as Fifty Switzerlands in One, are known as the birthplace of North American mountaineering. In 1888, Reverends William Spotswood Green and Henry Swanzy spent six weeks exploring the Selkirk Mountains. Prior to their arrival, there was no record of tourists ever entering the rugged landscape beyond the toe of the Illecillewaet Glacier. In fact, no one was known to have ever climbed a mountain in Western Canada solely for sport.
Beginning in 1899, the CPR hired Swiss mountain guides to teach hotel guests how to climb safely. In 1904, Gertrude Benham, left Lake Louise, travelled over Abbott Pass to Lake O’Hara, then descended along Cataract Brook, rounded Odaray Mountain, climbed Mount Stephen and descended into the town of Field. She covered 26 kilometres and 2,400 vertical meters – a daunting route even by today’s standards.
Today, mountaineers like Revelstoke’s Greg Hill continue to challenge themselves in the mountains of Yoho and Glacier national parks. In 2010, Hill set a world record by climbing and skiing two million vertical feet in less than a year.
These scientists, artists and adventurers helped to establish a time honoured legacy that continues to shape the culture and communities nestled near the dramatic peaks, glaciers and rivers of Yoho and Glacier National Parks.
Canada’s national parks are protected for all time. Today you can enjoy these parks much as early adventurers experienced them. Come and celebrate Yoho and Glacier national parks as we look forward to the next 125 years.
~Contributed by Parks Canada