James Hector and the Horse's Hoof: The Discovery of Kicking Horse Pass
Even those who are unfamiliar with the twists and turns of the Kicking Horse River have probably heard of Kicking Horse Pass, the world-famous road and rail route through the Canadian Rockies. A place of scenic splendor and grandeur, marking the Continental Divide between the slopes and watersheds of the East and West, the Kicking Horse Pass has an equally celebrated history. Its chance discovery by the esteemed geologist James Hector, and its subsequent role in the construction of the Spiral Tunnels, one of the world's greatest engineering marvels, have both contributed to its legendary reputation.
Party: When British medical doctor, geologist, and natural historian James Hector
was appointed to the Palliser surveying expedition of 1858, he added his impressive
intellectual credentials to a 5-member team that included a botanist, an astronomer,
and a magnetic observer. John Palliser, leader of the expedition was himself
a well-to-do Irish landowner, experienced buffalo hunter, continental traveler
and gentleman adventurer. Just as the Hudson's Bay Company's charter was coming
up for renewal, Palliser persuaded the British government, under the auspices
of the Royal Geological Society, to finance a full-scale surveying expedition
to the Canadian west. His assignment was to cover 3 geographical areas: Lake
Superior to Red River, Red River to the Rocky Mountains, and the Rocky Mountains
to the Pacific coast.
Natural Namesake: For 3 years, the Palliser expedition crisscrossed the Prairies, mapping, charting, assembling magnetic and meteorological records and gathering detailed botanical, zoological and geological data. In order to survey the vast territory, members of the team sometimes fanned out on individual missions. In August of 1858, James Hector set out in search of mountain passes, crossing the Continental Divide into a western river valley. At his camp near Wapta Falls, a packhorse bolted, and Hector gave chase. As he rounded up the horse, it kicked him, breaking his ribs and knocking him into unconsciousness. His guides, thinking him dead, began to dig his grave. But the indomitable Hector came to, recovered, and followed the river east to its summit pass. Both the river and the pass were named "Kicking Horse," for Hector's ornery steed.
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