On the evening of January 9, 1944, 500 soldiers arrived in the sleepy mountain town of Jasper, Alberta. Disembarking from the train, they marched through town accompanied by the skirl of their bagpipes and disappeared into the winter’s night. They were the Lovat Scouts, an elite British regimental unit sent to Canada to train for an Allied-led invasion of Nazi-occupied Norway. Far removed from the conflict in Europe, the mountains of Jasper National Park had been chosen as the location for this impressive undertaking.
Originally organized by the 16th Lord Lovat, the Lovat Scouts were a unique fighting force composed of Scottish Highlanders renowned for their excellent marksmanship and command of rugged terrain. The regiment served with great distinction in the South African Boer War and again in WWI where they won much acclaim at Gallipoli. In WWII, the Scouts were selected to be a key part of the Allied-led invasion of Norway. Recognized as having specialized skills adept to a mountain campaign, they were the only British unit to undergo formal training in high altitude warfare. Their training, which commenced in the mountains of Scotland and Wales, was completed under winter conditions in Jasper National Park.
Lovat Scouts skiing in the Tonquin Valley, Jasper National Park, Alberta, ca.1943. Image Courtesy of Jasper Yellowhead Museum and Archives (PA 25-15).
A few weeks ago we featured ice patch archaeology in Willmore Wilderness Park as part of the Rocky Mountain Alpine Project. The trip to Willmore was one of two attempts this summer to find archaeological artifacts and other organics melting out of Alberta’s ice patches. The second attempt took place from August 22-26, this time in Jasper National Park and, as promised, here are the results! For a background on the Rocky Mountain Alpine Project, check out our video.
This year was our second visit to Jasper’s ice patches. The goal of last year’s trip to Jasper was to determine if there was potential for finding organics and archaeological artifacts in Alberta’s alpine ice features. The trip was very successful and we found that many organics, like antlers and wood, were preserved at high altitudes. We also found a cultural piece of leather, with two knots in it, melting out of one of the patches. It was radiocarbon dated to A.D. 1640. The exploratory trip proved to be successful and we were excited to return to Jasper this year, both to re-visit the ice patch that yielded the leather and to explore some new areas.
Ice patch in the Maligne Lake Area of Jasper National Park, archaeologists surveyed the patch in August 2016. (Photo Credit: Aaron Osicki)
Located between the Astoria and the Whirlpool rivers is a mountain considered by many to be the most majestic in Jasper National Park, if not the entire Canadian Rocky Mountains. At an impressive altitude of about 3,300 metres, the mountain has been known by a number of names. French Canadian voyageurs using the Athabasca Pass referred to the notable landmark as La Montagne de la Grand Traverse (Mountain of the Great Pass). Dr. James Hector of the Palliser Expedition referred to it as Le Duc, probably after a Metis member of his party. In 1912, Arthur O. Wheeler of the Alpine Club of Canada and the Interprovincial Boundary Survey named it Fitzhugh Mountain, after the townsite of Fitzhugh, which was named for E. L. Fitzhugh, a director of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway (the townsite of Fitzhugh was later renamed Jasper). It had also been periodically, and incorrectly, referred to as Mount Geikie. Today, and since 1916, the mountain is named Mount Edith Cavell, named for a British nurse who never set foot in Canada, let alone within Jasper National Park or on the mountain itself. How this mountain became a commemoration to Edith Cavell is an interesting lesson in Canada’s role in the First World War, its place in the Empire and the importance of wartime symbolism and the values of myth and memorialization.
North face of Mount Edith Cavell with Lake Cavell in the foreground, ca. 1945.
Provincial Archives of Alberta, PA354.1
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)