Wilson, Tom
Tom Wilson (Courtesy Whyte Archives, NA-66-764)
(1859-1933)

During the summer of 1882 a former member of the North West Mounted Police and his Stoney Indian companion known as "Gold Seeker" journeyed westward up the Bow Valley. Thomas E. Wilson (1859-1933) was employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway and was working for Major A.B. Rogers, chief engineer of its Mountain Division, who was conducting surveys in the valley. While camped, the sound of distant avalanches were heard and Gold Seeker explained to Tom that the sounds came from a mountain above the "Lake of Little Fishes." The following day the two climbed out of the valley and Tom Wilson became the first non-native to visit what we now know as Lake Louise. Tom named the lake Emerald Lake, a name which eventually became attached to another lake which Tom discovered.

Following his work with the railway, which included his being in the famous "Driving of the Last Spike" photograph at Craigellachie in November of 1885, Tom Wilson became one of the most reknown of the early outfitters in the Rockies. He led many pioneering explorations into remote areas such as Mount Assiniboine, the Yoho Valley, and the Saskatchewan River Headwaters. Many of his assistants, such as Bill Peyto and Jimmy Simpson, went on to become legendary guides in their own right.

In 1903 Wilson set up wintering quarters on the Kootenay Plains, a unique area of prairie like grassland in the valley of the North Saskatchewan River, downstream from Mount Wilson. He established a combination horse ranch and trading post at the point where Whiterabbit Creek flows into the North Saskatchewan. The following year he sold his outfitting business but retained ownership of many of his horses in Banff, he continued to live there for much of the year.

One winter Tom was at his horse ranch and as Christmas Day approached he decided to join his family in Banff for dinner. Despite the fact that conditions were not favourable, he set off travelling up the Siffleur River. Arthur O. Wheeler described the trip as involving, "a snowshoe tramp alone of seventy miles through lonely tree-clad valleys, through rock-bound gorges and over wind-swept passes, where all nature lay stark and stiff in the icy grip of winter." At one point he fell through a snowbridge during a fierce windstorm and had great difficulty drying his wet socks and moccasins. "It was drifting and snowing so hard that the snow covered my sox and moccasins as fast as I could wring them dry, and, owing to the fierce wind, the flames leaped in every direction, making it impossible to get near the fire, so at half past nine I gave it up, put on my wet footgear and snowshoes and started down the valley. I could not see and felt the way with a stick... It kept the circulation going." When daylight came he was in heavy timber and was able to dry his footgear. The last three days of his journey were made without food. Tom wrote, "...the last day I could only make about fifty yards without resting, and my back tracks did not leave a very straight line. The chief trouble I had was to keep from going to sleep; it would have been so much easier to quit than to go on."

Tom Wilson was active in the mountains until 1920 when he moved to Vancouver. However, the old lure proved too strong and he returned to spend the years from 1927 to 1933 providing "local colour" for the CPR by entertaining guests at the Banff Springs Hotel with stories of the old days in the Rockies.

Back