Parks Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Common menu bar links

National Historic Sites in the Mountain National Parks

Athabasca Pass National Historic Site of Canada

Map of the National Historic Sites in the vicinity of the Mountain National Parks
Interactive Map of the National Historic Sites in the vicinity of the Mountain National Parks
© Parks Canada

Committee Punch Bowl Committee Punch Bowl
© Parks Canada

Transportation Corridor

Between 1811 and the mid-1850s, Athabasca Pass played an important role in the transportation routes of fur traders in western North America. Its importance derived from the strategic location it occupied on the Continental Divide at a time when traders, both British and American, were seeking to extend their commercial activity west of the Rocky Mountains.

In late 1810, with trans-mountain affairs pressing in a number of directions, David Thompson searched for a new route to bypass the blockade mounted by the Peigan Indians at Howse Pass. Led by Thomas The Iroquois, Thompson opened up of a route across the Athabasca Pass that became important to the continuity of the trans-mountain fur trade after 1811. While Thompson had already established a series of fur trade posts in the upper and middle Columbia River valley, the Athabasca route ensured stability of service to these posts. Until the 1850s, the Athabasca Pass became the main route used by fur traders crossing the mountains, a practice which was reinforced after the amalgamation of The North West Company with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1821.

Fur Trade Conflict

Following the merger of the rival fur trade companies, the Hudson’s Bay Company became more heavily involved in Oregon territory. It established Fort Vancouver at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1825, which became the headquarters of the company’s Columbia District. Trade conflicts erupted between British–Canadian and American traders that eventually led to the establishment of the border between Canada and the US on the 49th parallel. This event, embodied in the Oregon Treaty of 1846, led to the closure of Fort Vancouver and the withdrawal of the Hudson’s Bay Company from the Columbia fur trade.

Postal Service

After the Hudson’s Bay Company withdrew from the Columbia fur trade, use of Athabasca Pass began to diminish. In 1848, a new mail service emerged that utilized the route again. Mail traveled from New York by steamboat to Panama, overland to the Pacific Coast, and then by boat to the Oregon Coast. The Hudson’s Bay Company could now save many months in the transit of its mail by using this route. The adoption of this service was the prelude to the reorganization of the Pacific slope operations as a separate department in 1852, administered directly from London.

By 1855, even the use of the pass as a route for the “Columbia Express” - a lightly equipped internal mail and personnel transit system, which, since the 1820s, traveled annually between York Factory and the west coast - was suspended, thus ending all but occasional regional use of the pass.

Historic Passes

The Athabasca Pass is one of several western mountain passes designated as nationally significant in 1971. The importance of these passes relates to their role in opening up transportation links between east and west and in facilitating contributions to geographic understanding of the character of the Rocky Mountains. These cultural landscapes are places designated by the Government of Canada as a site of importance to all Canadians because of its national historic significance.

Plaque at Athabasca Pass National Historic Site of Canada
The Athabasca Pass plaque is located an arduous 49 km trek from the Icefields Parkway.
© Parks Canada
Historic Sites timeline Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site Howse Pass National Historic Site Athabasca Pass National Historic Site Kootenae House National Historic Site Yellowhead Pass National Historic Site Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site Jasper House National Historic Site Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site Fort St. James National Historic Site Kicking Horse Pass National Historic Site First Oil Well National Historic Site Skoki Ski Lodge National Historic Site Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin National Historic Site Jasper Information Centre National Historic Site Twin Falls Chalet Historic Site Yellowhead Pass National Historic Site Rogers Pass National Historic Site Banff Park Museum National Historic Site Cave and Basin National Historic Site Bar U Ranch National Historic Site

Athabasca Pass National Historic Site of Canada plaque states:
In January 1811, David Thompson, guided by Thomas the Iroquois, was the first white man to cross the Rockies through this pass. Thence he led his party down the Wood River to the place on the Columbia River later called Boat Encampment. Governor George Simpson subsequently named the small lake at the top of the pass ‘the Committee’s Punch Bowl’ - a reference to the London Committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company. For almost half a century, the Athabasca Pass was part of the main fur trade route between Canada and the Oregon country.

Fast Fact:

Kinbasket Lake is an extension of the Columbia River, created when the Mica Dam was completed further downstream in 1973. Below its waters is the original site of Thompson’s encampment on the Columbia, a national historic site commemorated by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board in 1943.

Fast Fact:

In Cree, Athabasca means, "where the reeds are," a description of the marshy delta where the Athabasca River enters Lake Athabasca.

Sources:

“Athabasca Pass National Historic Site of Canada Commemorative Integrity Statement,” Parks Canada, 2006

Traveller's Tales

The Committee Punch Bowl at Athabasca Pass National Historic Site of Canada