End­less Splen­dour

The 3,500-kilo­me­tre Yel­low­head High­way spans four prov­inces and dozens of beau­ti­ful parks

Our Canada - - News - by Irene David­son Fisher, Min­den, Ont.

The Yel­low­head High­way cel­e­brates 70 years of weav­ing the West to­gether, prov­ince by prov­ince.

As Canada cel­e­brates its 150th an­niver­sary, the Trans Canada Yel­low­head High­way As­so­ci­a­tion (TCYHA), cel­e­brates its 70th. This story is about weav­ing Western Canada to­gether prov­ince by prov­ince. It’s about what can be ac­com­plished when peo­ple are re­source­ful and pas­sion­ate, have com­mon unity and are de­ter­mined to make a dream a re­al­ity. To­day, as al­ways, we know there is strength in unity. The TCYHA has proven this be­yond a doubt.

This story reaches back to the 1800s, when a blond-haired Iro­quois Métis traded and trapped for the North West Com­pany, now known as the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany. His name was Pierre Bos­ton­ais (a.k.a. Pierre Hatsi­na­tion). He had yel­low-blond hair, so the French voyageurs nick­named him “Tête Jaune,” which means Yel­low Head. He joined David Thomp­son and ex­plored what was then known as the Leather Pass; he built a cache for his furs near the Grand Forks River, at what is now called Tête Jaune Cache.

In the fall of 1828, near the head­wa­ters of the Smoky River, Pierre Bos­ton­ais and his fam­ily were killed, along with oth­ers, by the Danezaa (Beaver) tribe in re­tal­i­a­tion for the Iro­quois en­croach­ment into Danezaa ter­ri­tory. In hon­our of Pierre’s ex­ten­sive ex­plo­ration ef­forts, the North West Com­pany re­named the Leather Pass “Tête Jaune Pass,” or Yel­low­head Pass. To­day, a mag­nif­i­cent high­way con­tin­ues to hon­our his name.

Around the same time pe­riod that David Thomp­son met up with Tête Jaune to ex­plore the Leather Pass, Thomp­son also dis­cov­ered a pass at the head­wa­ters of the Athabasca River. This dis­cov­ery en­abled traders to fol­low a river route up the Saskatchewan River to Fort Ed­mon­ton, over­land to the Athabasca, up­stream to Jasper House and across the moun­tains to Boat En­camp­ment, Fort Kam­loops and Fort Ver­mil­ion. This dis­cov­ery let the Hud­son’s Bay leather brigades travel through the Yel­low­head Pass, trans­port­ing valu­able furs from the District of Saskatchewan to New Cale­do­nia.

By the 1830s, af­ter Fort Garry was es­tab­lished in Win­nipeg, the east­ern por­tion of the route was be­ing used as a trans­porta­tion cor­ri­dor, con­nect­ing to the Yel­low­head Pass. Red River carts strug­gled along this treach­er­ous land route in 1840 to Fort Ed­mon­ton. In 1856, the Cari­boo Gold Rush was in the mak­ing and the min­ers used the Yel­low­head route to con­nect to the routes north to Alaska. Kate Ryan was one of the first women to un­der­take this ad­ven­ture, trav­el­ling as a cook for the North West Mounted Po­lice (NWMP). (Un­like Amer­ica, Canada’s West had law and or­der prior to the

in­flux of set­tlers. This was due in part to the re­spect and friend­ship be­tween the NWMP’S Ma­jor Walsh and Sit­ting Bull.)

Sev­eral years later, in 1862, Over­lan­ders trav­elled the treach­er­ous Yel­low­head Pass to get to Kam­loops and Prince Ge­orge to set­tle into their new homes. Cather­ine Schu­bert, the only woman, ar­rived safely in Fort Kam­loops with her hus­band Augustus and three chil­dren. Not only was Cather­ine the only woman but she also kept it a se­cret that she was four months preg­nant when they left Fort Garry. On Oc­to­ber 13, 1862, she gave birth to a baby girl with the aid of lo­cal Na­tive women.


The Do­min­ion of Canada, wor­ried about Amer­ica seiz­ing dis­puted ter­ri­to­ries, passed leg­is­la­tion for the gov­ern­ment to deed land and law­fully pop­u­late the West. In 1873, the NWMP es­tab­lished an out­post in Shoal Lake, Man., on the edge of what was re­ferred to as Ru­pert’s Land, or No Man’s Land.

The Do­min­ion of Canada took con­trol of Ru­pert’s Land from the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany and hired Sir Sand­ford Flem­ing, a Scot­tish civil en­gi­neer, to sur­vey pos­si­ble routes for a new rail­way across the Prairies and through the Cana­dian Rock­ies. It was Flem­ing’s rec­om­men­da­tion to the gov­ern­ment that the Yel­low­head Pass was the eas­i­est, safest and most di­rect route to the Pa­cific. Af­ter all, the high­est point on the Yel­low­head is lo­cated in Al­berta at Obed Sum­mit (1,163.9 me­tres, or 3,819 feet), a mere 128.4 kilo­me­tres from the gates of Jasper Na­tional Park.

As far back as 1926, ef­forts were made to en­cour­age the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to link the high­way sys­tems in Al­berta and Bri­tish Columbia. Arthur Ed­ward Cush­ing Read, the post­mas­ter at the lodge in Long­worth, B. C., was a fer­vent sup­porter for the com­ple­tion of the B.C. sec­tion of the high­way. His pas­sion for this project got him elected as pres­i­dent of the newly formed Yel­low­head High­way As­so­ci­a­tion with Don A. Mcphee as vice pres­i­dent and J.O. Wil­son as sec­re­tary- trea­surer. In ad­di­tion, Louis Le Bour­dais, in his role as Min­is­ter of the Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly (MLA) for Ques­nel Land as well as Mark Con­nolly, MLA for Fraser Lake, pro­vided their sup­port to this wor­thy cause, along with W. A. E. Wall and Ge­orge Ogston.

By the Dirty Thir­ties, the Yel­low­head High­way As­so­ci­a­tion had in­flu­enced the com­ple­tion of the high­way to the West from Mcbride to Tête Jaune Cache and north along the Thomp­son Route to Vale­mount.

With the De­pres­sion, gov­ern­ment fi­nances be­came scarce, but that didn’t stop these ded­i­cated pi­o­neers. Yel­low­head High­way As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Arthur Read en­cour­aged ev­ery­one to keep up their en­thu­si­asm and re­minded them that, due to mil­i­tary re­quire­ments, there was hope to com­plete the breach to join up with the Alaska High­way.

In “Re­mem­ber­ing,” Va­lerie Giles, Ph. D., notes, “Of­fi­cially, the pro­posed Yel­low­head High­way was called the North­ern Trans-provin­cial High­way.” She also notes that in early April 1942, the De­fence Depart­ment an­nounced they were go­ing to start road con­struc­tion “with all speed.” There was lit­tle doubt that this change of heart was, in

no small part, due to World War II and the con­cen­trated ef­forts of the United States to con­struct the Alaska High­way.

Re­gret­tably, with the death of Arthur Read in 1945, the ini­tia­tive ground to a halt and the Yel­low­head High­way As­so­ci­a­tion ceased to ex­ist.

The cause was once again taken up, in 1947, by the Board of Trade, with MLA John Mcin­nis of Fort Ge­orge mov­ing things for­ward. The B.C. provin­cial gov­ern­ment de­clared it didn’t have enough men or money due to the war ef­forts. Undaunted, mill own­ers in the Prince Ge­orge re­gion took stock of what equip­ment they had and pro­posed they would do­nate the nec­es­sary equip­ment for three months to keep build­ing the road. The boards of trade from Kam­loops to Mcbride, in Bri­tish Columbia, sup­ported the ini­tia­tive and or­ga­nized a car­a­van from Kam­loops to Blue River and back to gain pub­lic sup­port. In July, Vale­mount hosted a meet­ing to open the road from Vale­mount to Blue River and agreed to pro­vide the equip­ment needed to get the job done. In Au­gust, the provin­cial gov­ern­ment fi­nally coughed up $20,000 to as­sist in mak­ing the route pass­able and for its main­te­nance.

Dur­ing the same pe­riod in 1947, Canada’s lack of a cross­coun­try high­way was deemed to be a na­tional dis­grace. Pub­lic opin­ion was now in sup­port of ac­tion by the var­i­ous gov­ern­ments. On July 8 and 9, 1947, the Trans Canada High­way Sys­tem As­so­ci­a­tion (Yel­low­head Route), un­der the pres­i­dency of Ed­mon­ton Mayor Harry Ain­lay, held a meet­ing in Blue River with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and highly re­spected busi­ness and pro­fes­sional men of the day at­tend­ing. And so be­gan the Trans Canada Yel­low­head High­way As­so­ci­a­tion.


For more than 70 years, this non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion has rep­re­sented com­mu­ni­ties along the high­way from the heart of Man­i­toba to the shores of Bri­tish Columbia and through the B.C. in- An early map of the Yel­low­head, point­ing out its many at­trac­tions. terior to Hope, en­cour­ag­ing and push­ing the provin­cial and fed­eral gov­ern­ments to ob­tain fund­ing for build­ing and main­tain­ing Trans Canada Yel­low­head High­ways No. 16 and No. 5, and to en­cour­age tourism on be­half of the dozens of com­mu­ni­ties along the cor­ri­dor.

For 70 years, from The Forks in Win­nipeg to the Queen Char­lotte Is­lands and south from Vale­mount to Hope, more than 100 com­mu­ni­ties have worked pas­sion­ately to­gether, putting aside any lo­cal is­sues with one another to work to­wards a com­mon goal.

To­day, we can all ex­pe­ri­ence the end re­sult of these ex­ten­sive ef­forts. Trans Canada Yel­low­head High­ways No. 16 and No. 5 are ma­jor trans­porta­tion cor­ri­dors for Canada’s goods and ser­vices, as well as a scenic and his­toric drive. In the April-may 2008 edi­tion of Our Canada, I wrote an ar­ti­cle from a tourist’s per­spec­tive about this mag­nif­i­cent high­way, which now stretches 3,500 kilo­me­tres through the four western prov­inces, with di­rect ac­cess to five na­tional parks, 90 provin­cial parks and three Na­tional His­toric Sites. Through Prairie flat­lands to ma­jes­tic moun­tains, this parkto-park high­way cap­tures a huge part of Canada’s his­tory and fea­tures some of Canada’s most breath­tak­ing scenery. It took the courage, pas­sion and for­ti­tude of peo­ple like you and me to make a dream a re­al­ity.

Happy 70th an­niver­sary to the Trans Canada Yel­low­head High­way As­so­ci­a­tion—keep up the great work!

An­gus Horne (left) was among the first peo­ple to rec­og­nize the need for the Yel­low­head Route. Ed­mon­ton mayor H.D. Ain­ley was in­stru­men­tal in the cre­ation of the Trans Canada Yel­low­head High­way As­so­ci­a­tion in July 1947.

An his­toric meet­ing took place in Blue River, B.C., in July 1947, which en­abled the Yel­low­head Route be­tween Vale­mount and Blue River to be re­opened af­ter hav­ing been blocked by land­slides.

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