Between 1857 and
1860, John Palliser, an Irish sportsman and adventurer, led a group of
scientists on an expedition to explore, study and map the virtually unknown
area of western Canada between the North Saskatchewan River on the north, the
American border on the south and the Rocky Mountains on the west. Palliser,
whose family were among the land-holding aristocracy of Ireland, preferred to
wander on his own in foreign lands rather than participate in the pretentious
business and social life of his peers in Great Britain. From 1847 to 1849 he
wandered on a prolonged hunting and exploring adventure across the American
Great Plains. His book, Solitary Rambles and Adventures of a Hunter in the
Prairies, was published in 1853 and was a great success.
1853 and 1856 the United States conducted a series of explorations for
transcontinental railroad routes. Palliser, learning about them, thought Great
Britain needed to undertake similar exploration of its western territory.
Despite his financial means, Palliser could not pay for such an expedition on
his own. He was nominated for membership in the Royal Geographical Society and,
after being accepted, proposed his western expedition and applied for funding.
After careful review, the Society agreed and also assigned several prominent
scientists of the day to accompany him. Sir John Simpson, then
Governor-in-Chief of the Hudson's Bay Company, who had traveled extensively
in the American and Canadian Northwest, advised Palliser and also arranged for
canoes, horses and equipment.
three-year expedition resulted in an extensive compilation of data regarding
the wildlife, climate, geography, Indian cultures and languages, and other
information. This took three years to publish and was presented to the British
Parliament in 1863.
Palliser expedition included forays into the Columbia River Basin, including
explorations of Kootenay Pass and the upper Kootenay River; the Waterton Lakes
area north of present-day Glacier National Park in Montana; Kicking Horse Pass
on the Kicking Horse River, the present route of the Trans-Canada Highway and
the Canadian Pacific Railroad; and Howse Pass in the northern Canadian Columbia
basin where David Thompson pioneered a route over the Rockies in 1807.
Many prominent mountains, passes and rivers were named by Palliser and his four