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National Historic Sites of the Mountain Parks


Number 1
April 2005


National historic sites in the mountain parks tell a story that began several hundred years ago; a story of First Nations, fur traders, even rays from outer space.

First Nations & the North West Company

Following trails traveled by the Ktunaxa First Nation, David Thompson of the North West Company crossed Howse Pass in the early 19th century to establish the fur trade in the Columbia district. Thompson built a trading post at Kootenae House (1807 - 1811) on the upper Columbia River, near what is now Invermere. As the fur traders moved to the north, Thompson briefly used Henry House in the Athabasca valley to store supplies and graze his horses. For the first half of the 19 th century, the main fur trade routes between Alberta and British Columbia were through Athabasca Pass and Yellowhead Pass, anchored on the east side by places such as Jasper House (1830-1884). Archaeological remains at these locations include buried foundations, cemeteries, artefacts, and campsites.

Crossing the Great Divide

Many long established trails across the Continental Divide have evolved into modern transportation corridors. The Palliser Expedition explored Kicking Horse Pass in 1858. Three decades later, the Canadian Pacific Railway chose this pass as the main route over the Rocky Mountains in their quest to link Canada from sea to sea. Construction of the Spiral Tunnels in 1909 solved daunting problems created by the steep grade down the west side of the pass into British Columbia.

Post Card showing the main Cave and Basin building in 1914.
The Cave and Basin commemorates the birthplace of the national park system in 1885. It was here the park we now know as Banff had its beginnings as a small parcel set aside to protect the sulphur mineral springs. Post Card Circa 1914.
© Steve Malins collection

The Wellhead at the First Oil Well National Historic Site in Waterton Lakes National Park.
First Oil Well in Western Canada (1902) -- Visitors to Waterton Lakes National Park can explore the wellheads, drilling equipment, and remains of the Oil City boomtown.
© Parks Canada

Early Tourism

As more and more people began to arrive by rail, facilities sprang up to accommodate the sudden influx of tourists to the mountains. The CPR built facilities for hikers and climbers, such as the Twin Falls Tea House (1908), and the Abbot Pass Refuge Cabin (1922). Rustic log buildings built at Skoki Lodge in 1931 for backcountry skiers, still welcome visitors.

Early park buildings include the Jasper Park Information Centre, built in 1913 as the superintendent's residence, and the Banff Park Museum (1903), an intricate log structure where original exhibits present the natural history of Banff in historic style to the modern visitor.

The Cosmic Ray Station, a laboratory built on the summit of Sulphur Mountain as part of Canada's contribution to the International Geophysical Year (1957-1958), investigated the properties of solar rays.