The Impenetrable Selkirks

Rogers Pass National Historic Site

A year later, the railway company made an about-face - choosing to tackle an entirely different southern route through Kicking Horse Pass in the Rockies and over the Selkirk Mountains. The general manager of the railway, William Cornelius Van Horne believed in calculated risks. He had made a choice about the Selkirk Mountains before he was sure a pass even existed. He had decided that a more direct route to the Pacific was required to reduce the costs of construction and operation.

It had now become urgent that the railway company find a pass through the seemingly impenetrable peaks of the Selkirks. The westbound construction crews were already racing across Manitoba towards the distant Rockies. The eastbound company was working its way up the Fraser River valley. The Canadian Pacific Railway's fortunes now lay with Major Albert Bowman Rogers, a Massachusetts-born railway surveyor.

Rogers earned an engineering degree at Brown University and became an instructor at Yale. He was known as "Major" for having fought in the Sioux Rebellion of 1861; "Railway Pathfinder" for his work on the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad; and "Hell's Bells Rogers" for his penchant for profanity. Rogers was quick-tempered and experienced only in prairie surveying. Disliked by other engineers, and by his workers (whom he fed poorly and continually insulted), he was also honest, hard working, and frugal with company money. He and his Shuswap guides spent the summer of 1881 searching for a route through the western side of the Selkirks. Major Rogers climbed to the top of Selkirk barrier from the east side the next summer and confirmed the existence of a pass that he had spotted the year before. For his efforts, Major Rogers received a $5,000 cheque and a permanent place in Canadian geography.

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