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History of the Crowsnest Pass

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History of the Crowsnest Pass

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Located in the Canadian Rockies, the area now known as Crowsnest Pass has an interesting history thanks, in part, to surveys that had shown its rich archeological potential with indigenous tools and stone relics dating back as far as 11,000 years. While that period has been fogged over by time, there is quite a bit of documentation noting the arrival of European settlers as far back as the 1800, with members of the famous David Thompson expedition chronicling their time here.

Born in Westminster, London, England on April 30th, 1770, David Thompson came to acquire the nickname "Stargazer" or "Koo-Koo-Sint" in native dialect. A cartographer, fur trader, and explorer, he travelled across the world with an impressive 3.9 million square kilometres of North America personally mapped.

Those familiar with the map-making trade are likely familiar with Thompson, noting that he is often referenced as having been the greatest land geographer who ever lived.

His childhood was rather traumatic when he was just 2 years old. His mother was unable to support their family after this period and he, along with his brother, were entered into the Grey Coat Hospital for disadvantaged members of society in Westminster. Graduating at the age of 14, Thompson joined the Hudson's Bay Company for a seven-year apprenticeship and sailed to North America on the 28th of May that same year.

Years of work in what is now Manitoba resulted in building up skills he would use during his explorations, noting that some important parts of his life in this period were directed, first, by fracturing his leg - forcing him to remain immobile and enabling him to focus on his mathematical and technical skills. This was further compounded some years later when he lost sight in his right eye. These would have been problematic for anyone at the time but for Thompson they pushed him harder to adapt.

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One of his first feats was mapping a fur trading route for the Hudson's Bay Company leading to Lake Athabasca - the modern day border of Alberta and Saskatchewan - earning a promotion thanks to the quality of the work to surveyor.

His marriage to Charlotte Small is also of some report - not in the quantity of children they had, though, at 13 the number is quite impressive at the time - but, instead, they are remembered for the length of their marriage - at 58 years it is the longest Canadian pre-Confederation marriage to be recorded. He retired in what is now Montreal, living out the last of his years in the surrounding area.

So accurate were his maps that for over a hundred years they remained the textbook examples, only being retired in the beginning of the 20th century.

Among those places included in his documentation process was the famous Crowsnest Pass - an area that had been previously inhabited by First Nations Peoples, but had remained relatively unoccupied for decades if not centuries prior to European settlers. The infamy of the area is largely due to the difficulty in passing, even as late in the period as 1857 it was noted by Aboriginal guides as being "a very bad trail".

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The municipality of Crowsnest Pass owes its being to the coal industry that began in 1900. A diverse group of settlers arrived to work the mines and saw immediate growth that, unfortunately, was quickly decimated in 1903 when part of Turtle Mountain crushed the Village of Frank - a period referenced as Frank Slide. This was further exacerbated by a mine disaster in 1914, and deadly flooding in 1923 and again in 1942. Forest fires were also a natural threat to people living in the surrounding areas.

The population of Crowsnest has continued to diminish since the '70s as modern cities become more attractive and opportunities within the area vanish. Interestingly, Crowsnest Pass was the scene for the last train robbery in Canada in 1920, along with some other interesting trivia points.

Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Thompson_(explorer)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowsnest_Pass,_Alberta
https://www.crowsnestheritage.ca/

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