Jasper House National Historic Site
Jasper House Viewpoint © Parks Canada/R. Gruys
Plaque Text: Jasper House
In 1813 the North West Company built Rocky Mountain House on Brûlé Lake as a provision depot for brigades crossing the Athabasca Pass to the Pacific. When Jasper Hawes took command of the post in 1817 it became known as "Jasper's House" to avoid confusion with Rocky Mountain House on the Saskatchewan. The Hudson's Bay Company moved Jasper House upriver to this site in 1829, but by mid-century decreasing traffic over the pass sent the post into decline. When Paul Kane was here in 1846 this was a remote outpost commanded by Colin Fraser, George Simpson's former piper. A half century later Jasper House was finally closed.
On the scene
As the fur trade expanded west, Thompson's route over Athabasca Pass to the Pacific Ocean became more important. Support was needed for the bi-annual fur brigades that exchanged mail, supplies and furs via the pass. In 1813, the North West Company built a lonely post on Brûlé Lake, the last welcoming shelter before the pass and the fur-rich lands of New Caledonia district across the mountains. Described as "a miserable concern of rough logs, with only three apartments, but scrupulously clean inside", the post would serve fur traders for sixteen years.
By 1817 the post was under the charge of a man by the name of Jasper Hawes whose name became synonymous with the post, and later the national park. In 1821, the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company amalgamated. Four years later the post was rebuilt on the Athabasca River near Jasper Lake. While the new site was more useful, the buildings were crude. It was located at a strategic trail junction, there were places to winter horses nearby, but the factor had trouble finding steady supplies of fish and game.
For almost half a century Jasper House served as the main stopping place for all fur traders using the Athabasca, Bess and Yellowhead passes, and as an important meeting place for travels, adventurers and explorers. By 1909 the last remnants of "Jasper's House" were gone, and the era of fur traders was soon replaced by the wail of steam engines.
- 1813 - The North West Company builds the first Jasper House at the north end of Brûlé Lake as a provisioning post for fur traders.
- 1821 - The Hudson's Bay Company and North West Company merge and keep the name Hudson's Bay Company.
- 1824 - Yellowhead Pass gains popularity as a route to transport leather into New Caledonia.
- 1829 - The first Jasper House closes and another post is built further upstream.
- 1829-1830 - Hudson's Bay Company builds the second Jasper House at the north end of Jasper Lake. Here, the continuous wind blows the snow off the ground, creating a reasonable pasture for horses. This site is strategic to Athabasca and Yellowhead Passes as well as to Fort St. John via Bess Pass and the Smoky River.
- 1853 - Operations become sporadic following a decision which had all fur territories west of the Rocky Mountains report directly to London via Fort Victoria.
- 1857 - Post closes as per orders from George Simpson of Hudson's Bay Company.
- 1858 - Henry John Moberly rebuilds Jasper House and runs it on a seasonal basis until 1861.
- 1869 - Hudson's Bay Company disposes of its lands to the government of Canada.
- 1884 - Hudson's Bay Company officially closes Jasper House.
- 1891 - Lewis Swift and family live in the remaining structure of the post while looking for a place to homestead in the area.
- 1909 - The remaining structures of Jasper House are found destroyed. Surveyors for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway had used the materials to build rafts.
- 1924 - Historic Sites and Monument Board of Canada designate Jasper House (the second) as a national historic site, with plaque mounted in 1927.
The post was originally called Rocky Mountain Portage House, a fairly generic term in those days. To avoid confusion with the Rocky Mountain House on the North Saskatchewan River, the post soon took on the name "Jasper's House" after factor Jasper Hawes. The name Jasper soon extended to the surrounding area, the national park when it was created in 1907, and finally to the mountain town we know today.
There is no road access to the actual site of Jasper House. However a stop at the commemorative plaque is well worth your while. The plaque is 35 km east of Jasper on the Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway #16. If you are travelling from the west be careful of the blind corner while turning into the vehicle pullout.
Long since collapsed, the remains of the post are located upstream of the plaque on the far shore of the river. As you stand at the plaque, try looking at the landscape through the eyes of the fur traders and explorers that travelled through here over 150 years ago. They travelled without the benefit of a highway, but they saw the same towering mountains on either side of the Athabasca River. Enduring the wind which constantly blows across the gravel beds and through the forest, they must have welcomed reaching the shelter of Jasper House.
Note: The vehicle pullout is in a wildlife speed zone. There are often big-horned sheep on the road. Please drive with caution. Keep wild animals healthy and wild by not feeding or harassing them.
Heritage Sites and Monuments Board, Commemorative Integrity Statement.
G. Ens & B. Potyondi, A History of the Upper Athabasca Valley in the 19th Century. 1986.
Brenda Gainer, The Human History of Jasper National Park, Alberta. 1981
Ida Thompson, Where was Henry House?