When 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