Pass Finder

Howse Pass

  • 1539 m (5050ft)
  • Naming History
  • Peaks and Rivers
51.8000N 116.7555W
Province: Alberta/BC
Park: Banff
Year Named:
Named by:
Named for: Howse, Joseph (Joseph Howse was a Hudson's Bay Company trader who crossed Howse Pass in 1809, two years after it was discovered by David Thompson. Howse had been in charge of Carlton House, from 1799 to 1809.)
Mountain (NW): Mount Conway
Mountain (SE): Howse Peak
Headwaters (NE): Conway Creek
Headwaters (SW): Blaeberry River


Lying at the head of the Howse River, just five kilometres beyond Mount David ThompsonDavid Thompson's party in 1807.(Actually Thompson had sent an advance party over the pass in 1806. Jacques Finlay, a man named MacMaster and two others travelled over the pass, cut a rough trail down the Blaeberry River side, and built two canoes for Thompson's use. They then returned to Rocky Mountain House and presented Thompson with a map showing where they had been.) (McCart)

(According to E.J. Hart in "Place of Bows," two voyageurs named LeGasse and LeBlanc had accompanied a group of Kootenay Indians across the pass into their homeland in 1807.) Thompson's employers, the North West Company, had been anxious to find a practical route to the Pacific and China having determined that Alexander Mackenzie's 1793 route was impractical for trade. Thompson, together with James Hughes, had attempted to locate a pass through the mountains above Rocky Mountain House as early as the summer of 1801 but had been unsuccessful. The newly discovered pass was named for Joseph Howse, a Hudson's Bay Company trader who crossed it two years later. Howse had been in charge of Carlton House, near present-day Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, from 1799 to 1809. Joseph Howse and David Thompson met in the Kootenay Plains in 1810. (McCart)

David Thompson was on his way to the pass again in 1810 and this time it was his intention to follow the waters on the western slopes to the mouth of the Columbia River. But when he reached Rocky Mountain House he found that Chief Big Bear of the Peigans was camped upstream. Having been defeated in battle by a group of Indians who had been using arms provided them by the white traders, the chief was angry. Thompson felt his life was in danger and retreated to seek another route through the Rockies. The discovery of Athabasca Pass resulted from these efforts and was heavily used by the fur traders for the next fifty years despite the fact that Howse Pass would have been a much easier route to the Columbia River. Howse Pass remained un-visited for another fifty years.

James Hector reached the Saskatchewan River Crossing area in the fall of 1858 and briefly attempted to locate Howse Pass. Travelling up the Howse River, he was slowed by dense forests and ended up at Glacier Lake which he named for the huge snowfield in the head of the valley. The season was coming to a close but Hector spent another day travelling up the Howse River reaching the point below Mount David where Thompson had camped while waiting for the snows to melt in 1807.

After reaching Athabasca Pass during the following winter, Hector was back searching for Howse Pass again the following fall. Soon after being abandoned by his guide Nimrod, his party arrived at what is now Saskatchewan River Crossing and headed up the Howse River. After two false starts up the Freshfield and Forbes Brook Valleys they proceeded along the main, wide valley which seemed to stretch on and on, densely forested. After travelling another five kilometres they noticed a small creek which flowed in the same direction they were travelling and were surprised that they were now across the Divide, having not reached any particularly noticeable height of land. Hector descended the Blaeberry River, which he named because of the blueberries he enjoyed there, and reached the Columbia Valley.

In 1871, Walter Moberly was in charge of finding the best route through the Rockies for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He surveyed the route over the pass, approaching it from the Columbia Valley. Again in 1881, the pass was visited by surveyors of the CPR but only weeks later the decision was made that the railway would be built through the Kicking Horse Pass

Howse Pass's history is one of widely spaced, intermittent visits, with no regular traffic through to the Columbia. It is interesting to speculate as to what the Howse Valley and Pass beyond Saskatchewan River Crossing would be like had the railway made a different choice. A highway heading west from here would certainly have been built parallel to the railway and it is likely that a major hotel complex would have been built by the CPR, not at Lake Louise, but at Hector's Glacier Lake.

According to Ruthie Olmann, "Howse Pass itself is broad with scattered trees an bushes and in many places provides panoramic views of the mountains on both side."


Howse Pass was named for Hudson's Bay explorer Joseph Howse. As part of the quest for a passage to Native groups of present day British Columbia, Howse and a party of seventeen traversed the pass in 1809. David Thompson of the North West Company had journeyed through this pass two years earlier. Yet, Thompson named the area after Howse whom he had met in 1810. The Pikuanni carefully guarded this stretch of the Rocky Mountains. They did not want either explorer to gain direct access to trade with western Native groups, such as the Kutenai. The Pikuanni were a formable threat which was possibly why Thompson went north, where he eventually explored and utilized the Athabasca pass. Although, Howse returned to England with a 1500 pound profit from a successful season trading with the Flathead peoples of present day Kalispell, Montana, the pass was deemed too dangerous for future trade. The Howse pass was not used by the Hudson's Bay Company for another twelve years.(Jennifer Howse)