From Jasper House National Historic Site to the Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives, the story of the intrepid pioneers and skilled First Nations guides who explored and settled the Jasper region of the Canadian Rockies is revealed in rich and fascinating detail.
From Woods and Water
Featuring permanent and seasonal exhibits, the Jasper Yellowhead Museum immediately captures your attention with artifacts from the fur trade, Canada’s railway construction era and the days of early Rockies exploration and tourism.
The From Woods and Water exhibit displays the canoe owned by the legendary Curly Phillips. Despite not having any mountaineering experience, Phillips, at the age of 24, attempted to make the first ascent of the Rockies’ highest peak, Mount Robson in 1908. The adventure established his reputation as a guide and outfitter and led to his great success guiding Alpine Club of Canada clients and other wealthy visitors. He also established boat guiding businesses at Medicine and Maligne lakes and a trapping line to take city folk for an adventure into the backcountry by dogsled. He came to be seen as an authority on the mountains of Jasper National Park.
Another fascinating exhibit, Guardians of the Wilderness describes how the duties of the early park wardens included fire prevention, enforcing game laws and keeping an eye out for poachers. And at the David Thompson exhibit you’ll see some musket balls belonging to the intrepid explorer and map maker that were recovered from Athabasca Pass, which Thompson first crossed in 1811 and which served as a major fur trade route through much of the 1800s.
Ice Axe Legend
A favourite exhibit of mine features the ice axe used by Japanese climbers on the first ascent of daunting Mount Alberta in 1925. Left near the summit, it was rumoured to be made of solid silver. In 1948, when two US climbers made the mountain’s second ascent, they accidentally snapped the axe in half and brought the top half home. After being displayed in New York for 40 years, in 2000 the two halves – which turned out to be ordinary steel and wood – were rejoined in a ceremony at the museum, where they remain today on permanent display.
In the museum’s archives, mountains of books, periodicals, pamphlets, diaries, business papers and memoirs share stories of the Jasper region’s natural and human history. Accessible by appointment, the collection of historic photos is a true treasure chest, with images of horse wranglers, early tourist lodges, tour boats, railway stations and characters associated with Jasper’s evolving hospitality businesses.
Celebrating a significant role that is carried on today, Jasper’s museum also explains the contribution made by Jasper’s pioneers and residents in the evolution of Canada’s national parks. The charming gift shop boasts an outstanding selection of Rockies historical books.
Just a few minutes from Jasper’s Connaught Drive, west of the junction of Highway 93 and Highway 16, the Yellowhead Pass National Historic Site is worth pulling over. The commemorative plaque explains how this pass was a trade route for the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1820 to 1850 to transport leather, particularly moose hides. Named for a blond Iroquois freeman named Pierre Bostonais, the route now serves the Canadian National Railway and the highway as passage through the mountains of Jasper National Park.