A forgotten explorer

A good book for those who enjoy learning about early B.C. exploration



The Forgotten Explorer – Samuel Prescott Fay – 1914, the recounting of a first recording of several features of the Northern Rockies, is an excellent book for those who love reading about early explorer’s adventures while transiting largely wild places in B.C. and Alberta; when they relied on their own ability to succeed in very demanding circumstances on their 1,200-km trip; in an area that has been reached by civilization in only a part of the Rocky Mountains.

Early trappers were first to see many of these places. Railway surveyors found many passes through the mountains in that time, 1899 – 1914, when railroads were an essential link in development. There were railways such as the Grand Trunk Pacific, Canadian Northern and Canadian Pacific.

First Nations, for centuries, hunted and lived in much of the area and left their marks on the mountains and lakes. They were first and white explorers relied on them for directions and routes.

Fay was the first to take a picture of several features such as 69-metre Kinuseo Falls, Sukunka Falls, Mount Ida and Mount Sir Alexander (named after Mackenzie for his passage west of their route.)

Fay collected specimens for the U.S. Biological Survey, as well as determining the northern limit of bighorn sheep. From seeing Mt. Sir Alexander previously in 1912, he wanted to get to it.

The access towns of Dawson Creek, Hinton, Grande Cache and Grande Prairie were barely a year old in 1914.

It was a time when curiosity and the challenge led many to climb and explore all the area in what is now Banff and Jasper Parks. The seasonal flow of climbers and naturalists swelled the villages and led to employment of many frontiersmen as packers, guides and labourers. Many of the peaks have now been scaled and roads provide easy access.

One of the authors, Mike Murtha, while with B.C. Parks, worked on the Mackenzie Grease Trail 35 years ago.

We hunted moose on the Macgregor River and one year, by canoe, we got as high up until the water ran out. In our photos, Mt. Sir Alexander stands out.

A worthwhile read to make us appreciate the labour of those who went before and left a huge legacy.

Big Country Printers has copies of the book.

Andy Motherwell is an amateur historian and regular Observer columnist.