Castle Mountain to Mount Eisenhower and Back Again
In January 1946, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and future President of the United States of America, was on an official visit to Canada. Prime Minister Mackenzie King was seeking a fitting honour to bestow on the general. Sir Leonard Brockington, a friend and former aide of the Prime Minister’s, suggested that Banff National Park’s Castle Mountain be renamed in the general’s honour, adding, in a statement that proved to be astoundingly inaccurate, that because the mountain “was not named for any individual … no one could be offended by a change of name” (quoted in memorandum, Pickersgill to King, 7 January 1946). Reportedly against the objections of the Geographic Board of Canada, King announced the renaming during a state dinner on January 9. Recounting that the people of Scotland had recently presented Eisenhower with a castle, King said that
We have no ancient castles in this country, but we have other things that are even more enduring. We have ancient mountains. We can’t very well present you with a mountain, but we have this mountain named ‘Castle Mountain’ and it is the wish of the Government of Canada and of the people of Canada to change the name from ‘Castle Mountain’ to ‘Mount Eisenhower’.
Reportedly visibly moved, Eisenhower responded by saying that he was “touched by such a tribute that one man should be so honoured and his name so perpetuated in this way,” adding that “One day I am going to see that mountain. There is one thing, too, of which I am fairly certain – it must be a bald peak” (Ottawa Journal, 10 January 1946). The mountain became Mount Eisenhower and the junction of the two main roads in the area became Eisenhower Junction. Oddly, the Canadian Pacific Railway station in the area retained the name Castle Mountain.
Although the audience at the state dinner responded enthusiastically to the announcement, protests erupted from across Canada and even from the United States. The Vancouver Province wrote that
The gesture is a gracious one …it is a pity that the gesture will be futile. No one who has seen Castle Mountain can call it anything but Castle. The mountain named itself in the first instance. Its battlemented towers, its buttresses, its crenalated crags shout Castle, Castle, Castle, all day long. They can never be made to say Eisenhower [cited in the Banff Crag and Canyon, 18 January 1946].
The Banff Crag & Canyon wrote that “the man on the street is wondering why out of all the peaks and lakes in the Banff National Park, Castle Mountain should have been selected” [11 January 1946], and on 18 January added that
‘Residents of Banff were highly pleased when they learned Castle Mountain was to be called Mt. Eisenhower,” quotes one of the daily papers. Just which resident? … Letters and comments of protest are being published daily, which must sound a rather sour note to the supreme Allied commander as and if he reads them. Far be it for anyone to mean to belittle such a gesture, but two generations or more have known this mighty monarch of the Rockies as Castle Mountain, and it will take some educating to change its name. Surely the choice of another mountain would have been more in order [12 January 1946].
The Alpine Club of Canada wrote to the Prime Minister noting Eisenhower’s achievements, but lamenting the loss of the historic and uniquely descriptive name and also protesting the lack of consultation and the seemingly random selection of Castle Mountain to be renamed.
The Government of Alberta was particularly irate and officially questioned why the Alberta representative on the Geographic Board of Canada had not been consulted regarding the renaming of one of the province’s most prominent mountains. Minister of Economic Affairs Albert Hooke rose in the Alberta Legislature to say that although the province was supportive of the “paying of honour to General Eisenhower, it deprecates the unilateral way in which the action was taken” [Edmonton Bulletin, 5 March 1947]. In response, Alberta created the Geographic Board of Alberta, which would conduct its own research on and evaluations of geographical names to bolster Alberta’s position on these matters. However, despite the objections, the name Mount Eisenhower remained, at least on official maps, but most people, particularly locals, continued to refer to the massif as Castle Mountain.
The situation remained simmering in the background until the 1970s. In 1971, the federal naming body, which was now known as the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names (CPCGN), indicated to the Geographic Board of Alberta that it was prepared to consider changing the name Mount Eisenhower back to the historic name of Castle Mountain. The proposal gained substantial support amongst the general public, but the Government of Alberta took a hands-off approach to the idea noting that the mountain, being in Banff National Park, was under the jurisdiction of the Parks Canada and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.
In 1975, citizens of Banff petitioned the Government of Alberta to reinstate the historic name and the province endorsed a proposal to change the name of the mountain back to Castle Mountain, but to continue to honour General Eisenhower by naming the mountain’s highest point Eisenhower Peak. Parks Canada agreed and the name change appeared to be imminent, until a series of newspaper editorials began to condemn the name change as being inappropriate and misplaced Canadian nationalism and an insult to our American allies. On May 11, 1976, John Diefenbaker rose in the House of Commons and demanded an assurance that the “name will not be changed as it could only result in bitter feelings among those who served [in World War II]… as well as to Americans in general” (Oral Questions, Debates of the House of Commons, 11 May 1976). One month later, the Government of Canada announced that the mountain’s name would not be changed.
Four more years went by until 1979, when the proposal was raised again. This time, the proposal had the vocal support of two local Members of Parliament and Prime Minister Joe Clark, who had supported the 1975 proposal. On August 16, 1979, the Government of Alberta again indicated its support for changing the name of the mountain back to Castle Mountain and naming its highest point Eisenhower Peak. On October 15, Parks Canada indicated its acceptance of the Alberta proposals and added a third, that the name of the locality at the junction of Highway 1A and Highway 93 be changed from Eisenhower Junction to Castle Junction [Alberta assented to the Castle Junction decision in January 1980]. An official announcement was made and, after a thirty year hiatus, the name Castle Mountain became the official name for one of Canada’s most picturesque and well-known mountains.
National Topographic System Map Sheet: 82 0/5 – Castle Mountain
Latitude/Longitude: 51° 17′ 59″ N & 115° 55′ 21″ W
Alberta Township System: Sec 8 Twp 27 Rge 14 W5
Description: Approximately 30 km northwest of the Banff town site and 20 km southeast of the Lake Louise town site.
Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Officer
More information about Castle Mountain, Prime Minister Mackenzie King and General Dwight D. Eisenhower can be found in:
“The Diaries of William Lyon Mackenzie King,” Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, available from http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/king/index-e.html. [General Eisenhower’s visit to Canada and the decision to rename Castle Mountain can be found in King’s diary entries for January 7-11, 1946, the mountain naming is specifically addressed on the entry for the 10th].
“Canada: Dominion. God Old Ike.” Time Magazine, 21 January 1946, available from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,934381,00.html. [A short report of Eisenhower’s official visit to Canada].