Canada's History

Through an Unknown Country: The Jarvis-Hanington Winter Expedition through the Northern Rockies, 1874–1875

- by Mike Murtha and Charles Helm Rocky Mountain Books, 272 pages, $30

Never heard of the Jarvis-Hanington winter expedition? Neither had I. This book brings to light a forgotten journey into the Rocky Mountains to scout a possible route for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

In 1874, plans for a transconti­nental railway were well underway. Survey teams were sent to find the best routes. One team was assigned to explore a northern route through the mountains, starting at what is now Quesnel, British Columbia, and then making its way eastward across the northern prairies, through Fort Edmonton, and on to Winnipeg. The gruelling 165-day trip covered three thousand kilometres, and almost half the distance was completed on snowshoes.

Civil engineers Edward Jarvis and Charles Hanington came close to starvation and to freezing to death as they crossed the unmapped and near impenetrab­le Smoky River Pass — later named Jarvis Pass — with dog teams. It was an epic journey by any measure. In the end, the route was deemed unsuitable for the railway.

Rather than weaving a single narrative out of the available material, the authors present each source separately. Thus the opening chapter is Jarvis’s official report, the second chapter is Hanington’s journal, followed by a chapter with excerpts of Jarvis’s journals, and so on. Chapter five helpfully puts the expedition in perspectiv­e, and the final chapter gives biographie­s of the men who were involved.

Some repetition is unavoidabl­e when using this approach to tell a story. But the book, which has good photos and maps, should appeal to readers interested in this little-known aspect of railway-building history. — Nelle Oosterom

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