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Canadian Folklore: Kicking Horse Pass

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Now, this post is kind of a mix of both Looking into the Past and Canadian Folklore but I decided to put it in my Canadian Folklore category as it is a Canadian historical story. I am going to include as much as I can in this post but there is not really a heck of a lot of information on the Kicking Horse Pass except for excerpts from John Palliser's diary. Let's dive in.


Kicking Horse Pass

Kicking Horse Pass is a high mountain pass (5,338 ft) across the Canadian Rockies on the Alberta-British Columbia border, lying within Yoho & Banff National Park. Divide Creek forks onto both sides of the Continental Divide.



First Nations had known of and used the pass for years but it was first explored by Europeans in 1858 by the Palliser Expedition led by Captain John Palliser. It and the adjacent Kicking Horse River were named after James Hector (Hector's Branch Expeditions, August 3 1858 - May 26, 1859), who was kicked by his horse while attempting to rescue another horse that had gone into the river. Below is an excerpt from Palliser's diary.

Here we met a very large stream, equal in size to Bow River where we crossed it. This river descends the valley from the northwest, and on entering the wide valley of Beaverfoot River, turns back on its course at a sharp angle, receives that river as a tributary, and it flows off to the southwest through the other valley. Just about the angle, there is a fall about 40 ft in height where the channel is contracted by perpendicular rocks.
A little way above this fall, one of our pack horses, to escape the fallen timber, plunged into the stream, luckily where it formed an eddy, but the banks were so steep that we had great difficulty in getting him out. In attempting to recatch my own horse, which had strayed off while we were engaged with the one in the water, he kicked me in the chest, but I had luckily got close to him before he struck out, so that I did not get the full force of the blow. However, it knocked me down and rendered me senseless for some time…
31 August.— Every morning just now we have dense fogs, that generally last till nine or ten o'clock, but the evening's are fine and clear. After travelling a mile along the left bank of the river from the N.W., which because of the accident the men had named Kicking Horse River, we crossed to the opposite side.


A National Historic Site of Canada, the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) was constructed between Lake Louise, Alberta, and Field, British Columbia using this route in 1884, in preference to the original survey through the more northerly Yellowhead Pass. The original section of the CPR between the summit of the pass near Wapta Lake and Field was known as "The Big Hill". With a ruling gradient of 4.5% (1 in 23), it was the steepest stretch of the main-line railroad in North America. Owing to frequent accidents and expensive helper engines associated with railroading in the pass, the CPR built the two Spiral Tunnels that opened in 1909, replacing the direct route. Although they add several kilometres, they reduce the ruling grade to a more manageable 2.2% (1 in 46). Accidents still occur, including a major derailment in 2019 that killed three CPR employees.



The pack train trail over the pass, established at the time of the railway, gradually became a wagon road. In 1928, the Golden–Lake Louise highway, which essentially followed the CPR route, was completed. This section of the Trans-Canada Highway, built in 1962, follows a more northerly placement along the eastern approach. It reaches its highest point at Kicking Horse Pass at an elevation of 1,643 metres (5,390 ft). The Golden Triangle cycling route includes the pass.


I really tried to find a video for this post but there are none that I have been able to find that actually talk about the history of Kicking Horse Pass history instead of just being train videos.


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