Seizing the Sharp End: Canada’s Professional Mountain Guides

presentations - ACMG - CopyWhen the Cana­di­an Pacif­ic Rail­way that con­nects Cana­da from the Atlantic to Pacif­ic Coast was com­plet­ed in 1885, tourists eager­ly hopped aboard to vis­it the Cana­di­an Rock­ies. Among them were intre­pid moun­tain climbers, keen to ascend the region’s mag­nif­i­cent glaciat­ed peaks to stand on vir­gin sum­mits. Influ­enced by the death of a climber vis­it­ing from the US, in 1899 the CPR con­tract­ed two pro­fes­sion­al Swiss Moun­tain Guides to work from its lux­u­ry hotel in Glac­i­er Nation­al Park, thus launch­ing a respect­ed and hon­oured pro­fes­sion in Canada’s high moun­tains.

Over the fol­low­ing decades, pro­fes­sion­al guides led thou­sands of clients safe­ly up and down tow­er­ing peaks through­out the Rock­ies and the Selkirk moun­tains of Alber­ta and British Colum­bia, estab­lish­ing hun­dreds of first ascents along the way. But in addi­tion to break­ing trail up and down val­leys and across glac­i­ers, the CPR Swiss Guides and those who fol­lowed them – Euro­pean and Cana­di­an-born alike – con­tributed much more to the cul­ture and the lifestyle of west­ern Canada’s moun­tain region.

From climb­ing ver­ti­cal rock walls to devel­op­ing Canada’s world-class avalanche safe­ty and moun­tain res­cue pro­grams, to invent­ing heli­copter ski­ing and build­ing the foun­da­tion of the region’s flour­ish­ing out­door recre­ation indus­try, and even teach­ing Hol­ly­wood stars how to rap­pel off sheer cliffs, learn how the moun­tain guid­ing pro­fes­sion has played a rich and defin­i­tive role in shap­ing the his­to­ry and dis­tinc­tive cul­ture of Canada’s moun­tain com­mu­ni­ty.

Pat Morrow photo