Athabasca Pass

Alberta-BC boundary. Pass
Athabasca River and Columbia River drainages
Headwaters of Whirlpool River and Pacific Creek
52.3931 N 118.1833 W — Map 83D/8 — GoogleGeoHack
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, āthap-āsk-ā-w, meaning “grass or reeds here and there.” The pass takes its name from the lake and the Athabasca River.

The first European to cross Athabasca Pass was David Thompson [1770–1857] of the North West Company [1779–] 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 [1670] closed its operations in Oregon and moved its Pacific coast headquarters to Fort Victoria on Vancouver Island.

Gabriel Franchère [1786–1863] 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.”


  • Thompson, David [1770–1857]. David Thompson’s Narrative of his explorations in western America, 1784-1812. Joseph Burr Tyrrell, editor. Toronto: Champlain Society, 1916. University of British Columbia
  • Franchère, Gabriel [1786–1863]. Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America, in the years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814, or the First American Settlement on the Pacific. Translated and edited by J. V. Huntington. New York: Bedfield, 1854. Gutenberg
  • Arrowsmith, John [1790–1873]. Provinces of British Columbia and Vancouver Island; with portions of the United States and Hudson’s Bay Territories. 1859. UVic
  • 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
  • Wheeler, Arthur Oliver [1860–1945]. “The location of Mts. Brown and Hooker.” Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 12 (1921–1922):123-129
  • Gainer, Brenda. The human history of Jasper National Park, Alberta. Manuscript report 441. Ottawa: Parks Canada, 1981. Parks Canada
  • Akrigg, Helen B., and Akrigg, George Philip Vernon [1913–2001]. British Columbia Place Names. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997. Internet Archive
  • Wikipedia. Athabasca Pass

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