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Defining Wilderness: Mapping the Boundaries of Banff National Park

By Felix Mayer, Lillian Agnes Jones Fellowship Recipient 2021

Back to the Cairn

In the winter of 1883, William Van Horne visited Western Canada and upon first seeing the Bow Valley was immediately impressed by the snow-covered peaks and frozen lakes of the Rocky Mountains. He asked surveyor William Pearce to arrange for the reservation of a park for the area with initial site surveys to begin the following spring, seeking to preserve the beauty of the scenery and to prevent “despoliation by the advances of civilization in the guise of miners and lumbermen.”[1] When spring arrived, however, the valley that had so impressed Van Horne under a heavy blanket of snow proved to be a marshland, an area that was ill-suited for the grand park that he had envisioned, and the site was abandoned. For some time thereafter, visitors that passed through the area mockingly referred to the location as “Van Horne’s Park”.[2] The area that William Van Horne sought to claim and protect from the encroachment of modern civilization, the valley where he had envisioned a “fine house on the island in the lake,” is now the location of the Lafarge Exshaw Cement Plant at Lac Des Arcs.[3]