Mountains and Memorials

Yesterday, Andrea Eidinger tweeted a post about Vimy Peak in Waterton Lakes National Park, in Southern Alberta. The post appeared on Retroactive, the government of Alberta’s blog for historic places, to mark the centenary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Being a First World War historian who grew up in Calgary and spent most weekends hiking up the peaks of Kananaskis Country, I knew of a handful of other mountains that owe their namesake to the First World War.

The obvious ones can be spotted along the Smith-Dorrien Trail, a gravel highway that runs up the Spray Valley toward Canmore. These include such notables as Mount Foch, Mount Birdwood, Mount Smuts, and of course Mount Smith-Dorrien. Further beyond lies Mount Sir Douglas, overlooking the Haig Glacier. Thinking back fondly to a time when I could regularly see mountains on the horizon, I thought I’d whip up a quick map to share these other mountain memorials. But the more peaks I marked, the more familiar names appeared in the neighbouring ranges.

Not wanting to leave any omissions, I did some googling. A few dozen First World War mountains appeared on a list of peaks on the Alberta-British Columbia corridor, which provided comments on each mountain’s name. I also found a two more Retroactive posts about the Victoria Cross Range, in Jasper National Park. Five mountains bear the names of Canadian soldiers who were awarded the VC during the First World War. Another post listed the names of a whopping twenty-six peaks named after ships of the Royal Navy, sunk during the Battle of Jutland.

After about an hour on Google My Maps, I had a ninety-one mountains marked:

I don’t know too much about how or why these peaks were named (the Retroactive posts give a good explanation) but it’s interesting to see how the names are distributed. Many are clumped together in logical groupings. Mount King Albert and Mount Queen Elizabeth overlook Belgium Lake and are neighboured by Mt Leman – named after the general commanding the Belgian fortress at Liège – and Mt Leval – named after the Belgian lawyer who defended Edith Cavell.  Mt Currie, Mt Turner, and Mt Byng are clustered together alongside mountains named after other notable dominion generals: Mt Smuts an Mt Birdwood. Lieutenant-General Alderson, who was dismissed as officer commanding of the 1st Canadian Division, also has a mountain named after him but it lies much further to the South, near the American border.

Mapping out these peaks might seem tedious, but it was nice to think back on times when I had regular access to such stunning natural beauty. It was also surprising to realise how much the war left a mark on the Canadian landscape (or at least its maps and signage). I always thought it ironic that, as a historian of the First World War, I had never climbed Mt Foch, or Mt Currie, or any of the peaks named after a person or event related to the war. In making this map, I realised that familiar hikes like Mt Chester, Northover Ridge, and Galatea Creek were named in honour of the war.  I probably read more about military history than the average teenager, but so much of my time outdoors was also spent in the shadow of the Great War.

Young me (with the red pack) setting out to climb up the wrong side of Mt Indefatigable – named after HMS Indefatigable but known by Stoney Nakoda as Ûbithka mâbi (nesting of the eagle).

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