Pass Finder

Photo: The Monarch from Simpson Pass (courtesy Alan Kane)

Simpson Pass

  • 2118 m (6950ft)
  • Naming History
  • Peaks and Rivers
51.0791N 115.8277W
Province: Alberta/BC
Park: Banff/Kootenay
Year Named: 1858
Named by: James Hector
Named for: Simpson, George (The governor of the Hudson Bay Company, George Simpson crossed this pass in 1841. He was the first European to visit the Banff area and was on a trip around the world.)
Mountain (NW): Monarch Ramparts
Mountain (SE):
Headwaters (NE): Healy Creek
Headwaters (SW): Simpson River

Simpson Pass was one of the first named passes in the Canadian Rockies. It was named by James Hector in 1858 who was aware of the first recorded visitor to the Banff area.

As governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, George Simpson was probably the most powerful man in British North America at the time he made the first crossing of the pass that now carries his name. He was combining business with adventure when he passed this way in August, 1841 with twenty-two men and forty-five horses, for although Simpson was interested in expanding the HBC's fur empire, he was also on a trip around the world.

Simpson's party passed through Devils Gap, by Lake Minnewanka, and on to what has become Banff Townsite where they built a raft to carry the horses and baggage across the Bow River. While passing below what is now known as Cascade Mountain, Simpson noted, "a stream of water which, though of very considerable volume, looked like a thread of silver on the rock." Later, while ascending Healy Creek to the pass, he observed that, "one peak presented a very peculiar feature in an opening o fabout eighty feet by fifty, which, at a distance, might have been taken for a spot of snow, but which, as we advanced nearer, assumed the appearance of the gateway of a giant's fortress. Simpson must have been referring to the well known, "Goat's Eye."

The first crossing of Simpson Pass was recorded in Simpons journal as follows, _We were surrounded by peaks and crags, on whose summits lay perpetual snow; and the only sounds that disturbed the solitude, were the crackling of prostrate branches under the tread of our horses, and the roaring of the stream as it leapt down its rocky courseÛAbout seven hours of hard work brought us to the height of land, the hinge, as it were, between the eastern and western waters. We breakfasted on the level isthmus which did not exceed fourteen paces in width, filling our kettles for this our lonely meal at once from the crystal sources of the Columbia and the Saskatchewan.

The party recorded the crossing of the pass by carving initials and the year in a tree on the pass. In 1904 a party guided by Jim Brewster found the fallen log and the carving now resides in the Whyte Museum.

After crossing the pass, Simpson's party then followed the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. Reaching Asia, he crossed Siberia, Russia, and Europe to complete his trip around the world.

[Additional information: "An Overland Journey Round the World during the years 1841 and 1842" by George Simpson]