Tom Wilson, Trail Blazer and Trail Rider

Thomas E. Wilson, Banff pioneer, Lake Louise, Alberta.

“Tom Wilson, last of the Kicking Horse Pass trailblazers of 1881, cross the final Great Divide on Wednesday.”  So read the opening of a telegraphic dispatch appearing in the Canadian newspapers pf September 22nd, and though the news was not altogether unexpected, it caused widespread sorrow among his many friends and deep sympathy for his relatives. For Tom was one of the great characters of the Canadian Rockies, with a fund of anecdote based on experience which made him a wonderful companion. The Trail Riders paid their tribute to his unique record and personality by erecting a bronze plaque with his portrait in the Yoho Valley, which was unveiled by Mrs. Charles Walcott at the first Pow-Wow in August 1924. On that occasion Tom made a brief but typical reply to Mrs. Walcott’s address “I can’t extemporaneous talk,” he said, “except” when a cayuse has stepped upon my foot,” and then sat down.

Born at Bond Head, near Toronto, on August 21st, 1859, Tom Wilson was educated at Barrie, Ont, but went west in search of adventure at the age of fifteen. Eventually he joined the North-West Mounted Police, from which he resigned in 1881 to join the first survey party en route to meet Major Rogers at the head of the Bow River. Throughout that summer he acted as guide for Major Rogers, returning in the following year to the survey party. In that year he was the first white man to see Lake Louise, and Emerald Lake, and to explore the Yoho Valley, and in those days of railway building through the Canadian Rockies handled the packing for the C.P.R. construction over the Kicking Horse Pass. In 1885 he joined Major Sam Steele’s Scouts and fought in several battles of the Riel Rebellion. He was present at the driving of the last spike of the C.P.R. at Craigellachie in 1885. And then settled down as guide and outfitter at Morley. Among his records as trail blazer may be mentioned the new trail he cut to Lake Louise for the C.P.R.R. in 1887,  the trail he blazed to Mount Assiniboine in 1893, the trail to Lake O’Hara made with Walter D. Wilcox in 1895, the clearing of the old Indian trail to Emerald Creek and the cutting of trails to Emerald Lake and Wapta Pass in 1897. In the same year he guided E.J. Duchesnay to the Yoho Glacier and was largely responsible for the development of the Yoho Valley as a tourist objective in the succeeding years. Tom Wilson cut the first trail to Moraine Lake in 1900. He accompanied Edward Whymper, conqueror of the Matterhorn, on his survey of the Canadian Rockies in 1903, and was recognized as the outstanding pathfinder, guide and outfitter of these regions.

It is worthwhile recording that the Indian Day celebration at Banff was started by Tom Wilson in 1894 and carried on for seven years at his own expense, and that he was one of the founders of the Alpine Club of Canada in 1906.

His interest in the Trail Riders of the Canadian Rockies was very great, and if life had been spared he would have taken just as keen an interest in the Sky Line Trail Hikers, to whom he gave his blessing when the new Order was organized last August. His correspondence with Alpine climbers, explorers, hunters and fishermen, trail riders and anyone interested or likely to be interested was enormous, and there were many people to whom the name of Tom Wilson as synonymous with that of the Canadian Rockies. His end was not unexpected, for he had been ailing for several years, but he will be sadly missed.