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

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 Alpine Club of Canada also helped to pay for a portion of the Smithsonian’s costs for sending staff. Official Smithsonian staff included N. (Ned) Hollister, Assistant Curator in the Division of Mammals (leader); and Joseph Harvey Riley, Aid in the Division of Birds. They were assisted by Charles D. Walcott, Jr. (son of the Secretary of the Institution) and H. H. Blagden. All specimens collected came to the Smithsonian, including mammals, birds, reptiles, batrachians, fishes, invertebrates, and plants.

Under Wheeler, the Robson expedition included Austrian mountain guide Conrad Kain, who would ultimately make the undisputed first ascent in 1913, Phillips as outfitter, Kinney as assistant and Harmon as photographer and cook.

While Wheeler’s attempts to interest Canadian scientists in his expedition did not succeed, he did entice Dr. Charles Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to conduct scientific studies under the permit of the geology, flora and fauna of the area.
The expedition’s supplementary party also included Ned Hollister, assistant curator of mammals for the United States National Museum, J.H. Riley from the same USNM, with Charles Walcott Jr. and Harry H. Blagden serving as the party hunters who were also enlisted to secure big game specimens.

Travelling west from Edmonton to the end of railroad construction near Henry House via the Grand Trunk 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

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