Athabasca Pass

Pass. Alberta-BC boundary: Headwaters of Pacific Creek and Whirlpool River
52°23’35” N 118°11’00” W — Map 83D/8 — Google
Earliest known reference to this name is 1811 (David Thompson).
Name officially adopted in 1924. Official in BCCanada

Athabasca (also Athabaska) is an anglicized version of the Cree name for Lake Athabasca in Canada, āthap-āsk-ā-w, meaning “grass or reeds here and there.” The pass takes its name from Lake Athabasca and the Athabasca River.

The first European to cross Athabasca Pass was David Thompson of the North West Company in 1811. The pass became the main fur trade route from the east to the Columbia River until 1824, when the Hudson’s Bay Company closed its operations in Oregon and moved its Pacific coast headquarters to Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island.

Gabriel Franchère traveled through the pass with a fur brigade in the spring of 1814. “We were obliged to stop every moment, to take breath, so stiff was the ascend,” he wrote. “After two or three hours of incredible exertions and fatigues, we arrived at the plateau or summit. On either side were immense glaciers or icebound rocks.”

The name appears on B.C. Surveyor General Joseph William Trutch’s 1871 “Map of British Columbia to the 56th Parallel North Latitude.”


  • Franchère, Gabriel [1786–1863]. Narrative of a voyage to the Northwest Coast of America, 1811-1814. New York: Redfield, 1854. Library of Congress
  • Trutch, Joseph William [1826–1904]. Map of British Columbia to the 56th Parallel North Latitude. Victoria, B.C.: Lands and Works Office, 1871. University of Victoria
  • Akrigg, George Philip Vernon (1913-2001), and Helen B. Akrigg. British Columbia Place Names. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997. Internet Archive
  • Athabasca Pass. Wikipedia

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