The Victoria Cross Ranges (Part 2)

In a previous post, we looked at the naming of five mountains in Jasper National Park after First World War Victoria Cross recipients. It took a number of years and some persistence from the Geographic Board of Alberta to achieve this natural war monument for the service of five soldiers to the British Commonwealth in the First World War. In addition to naming the mountains, the negotiations between provincial and federal naming authorities resulted in the naming of the Victoria Cross Ranges in Jasper National Park to serve as a long-standing tribute to all recipients of the Victoria Cross. This naming decision created a naming policy that is still honoured today.

Looking west to the Victoria Cross Ranges (Image courtesy of Mountain Nerd on Summit Search)

Looking west to the Victoria Cross Ranges
(Image courtesy of Mountain Nerd on Summit Search)

Up until the 1960s, geographical naming in Canada was a federal responsibility. However, in 1946, the Geographic Board of Alberta was formed with the responsibility of researching and recommending suitable names for places, water features and land features in the province and to ensure that Alberta had a strong voice on geographical naming matters. One of the Alberta board’s first decisions was to name prominent features to commemorate decorated servicemen. At this time, Alberta was the first province to take steps towards the naming of lakes and mountains after its decorated soldiers. The Alberta Board felt that a tribute to the recipients of the Victoria Cross would be most suitable, as this award is the highest military decoration that can be bestowed upon a soldier in the British Commonwealth and a list of Victoria Cross recipients was requested from the War Office in London.

Aerial Imagery of the Victoria Cross Ranges showing the locations of the mountains named for recipients of the Victoria Cross.

Aerial Imagery of the Victoria Cross Ranges showing the locations of the mountains named for recipients of the Victoria Cross.

By early 1949, the Geographic Board of Alberta had put forward the names of Mount De Wind and Mount Harvey to the Canadian Board on Geographic Names to honour Lieutenants Edmund De Wind and Frederick Harvey, who both received Victoria Crosses for their service in the First World War. It is not clear why De Wind and Harvey’s names were the first to be acknowledged, but it is possible that these soldier’s names were put forward by the public, or their families were the first to respond with their biographical information. Mount De Wind and Mount Harvey were approved as official names in March 1949.  These mountains are in the Berland Range of what is now the Willmore Wilderness Park, north of Jasper National Park.

By late 1949, the Geographic Board of Alberta added five First World War soldiers to the list of mountain names that they wanted designated, Private John Chipman Kerr, Private Cecil John Kinross, Captain George Burdon McKean, Private John George Pattison and Sergeant Raphael Louis Zengel (for more details see previous post). However, the National Parks Branch was hesitant to accept the proposal. In October 1950, correspondence between Parks Branch administration and the Chief Cartographer with the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys showed that the Parks Branch was not in favour of naming the mountains after Victoria Cross recipients for a number of reasons. Firstly, Parks Branch policy was that the naming of topographic features should be “selected for their descriptive suitability rather than in memory of persons living or dead.” Additionally, the naming of mountains in National Parks was to be reserved for honouring “outstanding national figures who have made a substantial contribution to Canadian national life” and that individuals should be rarely honoured through the naming of geographical features.

The Victoria Cross Ranges. Image courtesy of Steven Song on Summit Search.

The Victoria Cross Ranges. Image courtesy of Steven Song on Summit Search.

The Geographic Board of Alberta disagreed with the Parks Branch and argued that “descriptive names should be a matter of preference rather than a rigid rule” and asserting that recipients of the Victoria Cross should qualify as being substantial contributors to Canada. Additionally, only a year had passed since the naming of Mount De Wind and Mount Harvey had been accepted by federal naming authorities.

Correspondence continued into the following year, until a decision was made to accept Alberta’s request to name the five mountains in Jasper National Park. Additionally, an agreement was reached that the entire series of mountains would be known as the Victoria Cross Ranges. The names Mount Kerr, Mount Kinross, Mount McKean, Mount Pattison and Mount Zengel were approved in 1951 and the name of the Victoria Cross Ranges was officially recognized in May 1952. Afterwards, it was agreed by both the Parks Branch and the Province of Alberta that the entire range would stand as an eternal commemorative monument to all Canadian recipients of the Victoria Cross and that no other mountains or features within the ranges would be named after individual recipients of the military honour. This is an agreement that continues to be honoured by Alberta and Parks Canada today.

Mount Kerr and Kerr Lake. Image courtesy of Steven Song.

Mount Kerr and Kerr Lake. Image courtesy of Steven Song.

Written by: Erin Hoar, Historic Resources Management Branch Officer.

Sources:

Geographical Names Program Research File #83-D/16, Jasper Park. In custody of the Historical Resources Management Branch.

Geographic Board of Alberta Minutes: March 28, 1946-November 19, 1949. In custody of the Historical Resources Management Branch

Geographic Board of Alberta Minutes: January 22, 1950-December 17, 1954. In custody of the Historical Resources Management Branch

Library and Archives Canada. “Soldiers of the First World War: 1914-1918.” (Accessed August 11, 2014).

National Defense and the Canadian Forces. “Canada’s Victoria Cross.” (Accessed August 29, 2014).

National Defense and the Canadian Forces. “Victoria Cross – First World War, 1914-1918.” (Accessed August 21, 2014).

Peak Finder. (Accessed August 21, 2014).

Summit Search: Mountain Community. (Accessed August 29, 2014).

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