Some Background on the Palliser Expedition

The Palliser Expedition, (1857-60), was initiated by John Palliser, who submitted to the Royal Geographical Society a plan to travel from the Red River Colony to and through the Rocky Mountains along the unsurveyed American boundary. The socety expanded the project into a scientific expedition and applied for a grant of £5000 from the imperial govenment, which was then facing the problem of the future of the Hudson's Bay Company territories.

They were to explore the old North West Company canoe route west from Lake Superior, the plains south of the North Saskatchewan River and the southern passes through the Rockies and find badly needed information about them. Dr James Hector was appointed geologist and naturalist, Eugene Bourgear botanical collector and John W. Sullivan secretary and astronomical observer. Magnetical observer Lt. Thomas W. Blakiston brought his delicate instruments by way of the Hudson Bay to join them on the prairies.

The explorers amassed astronomical, meteorological, geological and magnetic data, and described the country, its fauna and flora, its inhabitants and its "capabilities" for settlement and transportation.

They concluded that to establish communications entirely within British territory from the east to Red River would be difficult and costly and that access through American territory was much easier. Although some semi-arid country (which is now known as Palliser's Triangle) stretched across the American border into the prairies of modern Canada, it was surrounded by a fertile belt well suited for stock raising and agriculture. There were deposits of coal and other minerals. The company traversed 6 passes in the southern Rockies. some of them feasible for a railway (the CPR later built through one of them - the Kicking Horse Pass, named by Hector), but found the mountains further west a formidable obstacle.

The expedition's reports (published in 1859, 1860 and 1863) and its comprehensive map (1865) were for some time the major source of information about the area.

More Detail on the Palliser Expedition will provide information on landmarks named by expedition members.

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Background Information on James Hector

Other Historic Journals by Explorers of the West

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