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Athabasca Pass National Historic Site of Canada

Jasper National Park of Canada, Alberta, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1971/05/27

General view of the Athabasca Pass showing the small lake at the top of the pass called "the Committee's Bunchbowl", 1998.; Jack Porter, Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1998.
General view
General view of the Athabasca Pass, showing the visual character of the pass, meaning the unimpeded viewscapes of the surrounding mountains and forest, 1998.; Jack Porter, Parcs Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, 1998.
General view
Plaque; Parks Canada

Other Name(s)

Athabasca Pass National Historic Site of Canada
Athabasca Pass
Col Athabasca

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2008/11/07

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

Athabaska Pass National Historic Site of Canada is a route that crosses the Rocky Mountains, the height of land that forms the Continental Divide in western Canada. The pass forms a linear corridor of access over these mountains in an area of dramatic landscape composed of river, trail, trees, glaciers, lakes and rock formations. A geographic composite of elements whose character alters with the seasons, the pass becomes increasingly rugged as it ascends to meadows surrounding a small glacial lake at the summit. Rivers to the west drain into the Pacific while the eastern half drains into Hudson Bay. These mountains form the boundary between British Columbia and Alberta and the site is situated in both provinces. The Alberta side of the pass falls entirely within Jasper National Park of Canada and is administered by Parks Canada. The British Columbia side of the site is provincial crown land administered by the British Columbia Ministry of Forests. The headwaters of the Whirlpool River in Jasper National Park of Canada run through the pass and eventually connect into the Columbia River. Official recognition refers to the geographically definable location circumscribed by selected natural features and watercourses.

Heritage Value

Athabaska Pass was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1971 because:
- the Athabaska Pass was, for almost half a century, part of the main fur trade route between Canada and the Oregon country.

Between 1811 and the mid-1850s, the Athabaska Pass played an important role in the transportation routes of the fur trade of western North America. Its importance derived from its strategic location on the Continental Divide when traders, both British and American, were seeking to extend their commercial activity west of the Rocky Mountains. David Thompson, the noted surveyor and explorer, decided to search out a new route in order to get around the blockade mounted by the Piegan Indians. In January 1811, David Thompson, using traditional Aboriginal knowledge and guided by Thomas the Iroquois, crossed the Rockies through this pass and led his party down the Wood River to the place on the Columbia River later called Boat Encampment. Journeying over the pass in 1824, Hudson’s Bay Company Governor George Simpson named the small lake at the top of the pass “the Committee’s Punch Bowl” – a reference to the London Committee of the company. The Athabaska Pass route ensured continuity of service to the fur trade posts already established by Thompson in the upper and middle Columbia River Valley.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, July 1971; July 2005; Commemorative Integrity Statement.

Character-Defining Elements

The key elements that contribute to the heritage character of this site include:
- the location in the dramatic, natural environment of the Rocky Mountains;
- the composition of geographical elements which constitute the pass including the mountains, river, trail, glaciers, vegetation, lakes and rock formations, evocative of this landscape at the time that it was used as a pass;
- the remains of the historic trail;
- the visual character along the corridor of the pass, meaning the unimpeded viewscapes of the surrounding mountains, forest and river;
- the integrity of any archaeological remains which may be found within the pass, including features and artefacts relating to the fur trade from the period between 1811 to the mid-1850s in their original placement and extent.




Recognition Authority

Government of Canada

Recognition Statute

Historic Sites and Monuments Act

Recognition Type

National Historic Site of Canada

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1811/01/01 to 1855/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Trade and Commerce
Developing Economies
Technology and Engineering

Function - Category and Type




Traditional Trail or Trading Route

Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

National Historic Sites Directorate, Documentation Centre, 5th Floor, Room 89, 25 Eddy Street, Gatineau, Quebec

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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