1911 Alpine Club of Canada–Smithsonian Robson Expedition

The Smithsonian Institution participated in the Biological Survey of the Canadian Rockies in 1911 at the request of Arthur Oliver Wheeler [1860–1945], director of the Alpine Club of Canada [ACC].

Wheeler was undertaking a topographic survey of British Columbia and Alberta and thought it would be an excellent opportunity for the Smithsonian to gather specimens from the region. The ACC also helped to pay for a portion of the Smithsonian’s costs for sending staff.

Official Smithsonian staff included Ned Hollister [1876–1924], assistant curator in the Division of Mammals (leader), and Joseph Harvey Riley [1873–1941], aid in the Division of Birds. They were assisted in collecting by Charles D. Walcott, Jr. (son of the Secretary of the Institution) and Henry Harrison Blagden [1888–1957]. All specimens came to the Smithsonian, including mammals, birds, reptiles, batrachians, fishes, invertebrates, and plants.

Under Wheeler, the Robson expedition included Austrian mountain guide Conrad Kain [1883–1934], who would ultimately make the undisputed first ascent of Mount Robson in 1913, Donald “Curly” Phillips [1884–1938] as outfitter, George R. B. Kinney [1872–1961] as assistant, and Byron Harmon [1876–1942] as photographer and cook.

While Wheeler’s attempts to interest Canadian scientists in his expedition did not succeed, he did entice Charles Doolittle Walcott [1850–1927], secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to conduct scientific studies under the permit of the geology, flora and fauna of the area.

Travelling west from Edmonton to the end of railroad construction near Henry House via the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, the party then set off into the wilderness. Over the course of the summer they made the first circuit of Mount Robson, mapped and surveyed much of the country of that region and climbed 30 peaks, many of them first ascents. They also surveyed the area around Jasper’s Maligne Lake and eventually returned to Laggan (now Lake Louise) through the early autumn snows.


  • Smithsonian Institution. Expedition History, 1911 (1911). Smithsonian Institution Archives
  • Wheeler, Arthur Oliver [1860–1945]. “The Alpine Club of Canada’s expedition to Jasper Park, Yellowhead Pass and Mount Robson region, 1911.” Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 4 (1912):9-80
  • Wheeler, Arthur Oliver [1860–1945]. “Topographical Map Showing Mount Robson and Mountains of the Continental Divide North of Yellowhead Pass to accompany the Report of the Alpine Club of Canada’s Expedition 1911. From Photographic Surveys by Arthur O. Wheeler; A.C.C. Director.” Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 4 (1912):8-81
  • Hollister, Ned [1876–1924]. “Mammals of the Alpine Club Expedition to the Mount Robson Region.” Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 4 No. 2 (1912):6-44
  • Phillips, Donald “Curly” [1884–1938]. “Fitzhugh to Laggan. Report by Donald Phillips to A. O. Wheeler, Director of the Alpine Club,Canada.” Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 4 (1912):83-86

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *