Historical Photos from the Lake O’Hara Area

R. L. Glisan penned this quote about Lake O’Hara in the Canadian Alpine Journal, “Not a trace of human presence, not a trace of any disturbing element, the whole scene was the personification of a majestic peace.” That quote was written in 1908 and although a lot has changed in the intervening years, Lake O’Hara continues to be one of the crown jewels of the Canadian Rockies. By managing the number of visitors allowed in the valley each day, Parks Canada has ensured that Lake O’Hara and surrounding area continue to be as pristine as possible.

Colonel Robert O’Hara, 1926-1929

Unfortunately, little has been published about the earliest visitors to the Lake O’Hara valley, but it’s not hard to fathom that the entire area would have held cultural importance to many pre-contact Indigenous groups. One of the earliest European explorers to the area was Samuel Allen. Upon setting eyes on the stunning lake, Allen wrote, “as beautiful a lake as I have ever seen.” Allen named the lake after Colonel Robert O’Hara, whom Allen believed to be one of the first Europeans to have seen it and it was from O’Hara that Allen had originally heard of the lake’s existence. On this trip, Allen was travelling with Yule Carryer, an Indigenous man who had studied at the University of Toronto and was working for the railroad in Field, when he was enlisted to join the expedition. Allen was also responsible for naming numerous peaks and passes (including Abbot Pass) in this area, many of which feature Indigenous monikers.

Hikers at the summit of Opabin Pass, on border of Alberta and British Columbia, 1910

Today, access to Lake O’Hara is carefully regulated by Parks Canada. There are four ways you can visit the Lake O’Hara valley; day-visit, overnight camping, staying in the Elizabeth Parker Hut, or staying at the Lake O’Hara Lodge, all of which require advanced reservations. Getting to the lake is accomplished by travelling the 11-kilometre gravel access road. Parks Canada operates a shuttle bus, but due to the overwhelming popularity for day-users, reservations for the bus are obtained through a random draw process. Many visitors have expressed frustration over the difficulty in acquiring a reservation on the shuttle bus, but these regulations have ensured the highly sensitive alpine environment remains unspoiled and it also means the trails will never feel crowded. If you’re looking at visiting the Lake O’Hara valley, please visit this Parks Canada website for all the details.

Alpine club camp at Lake O’Hara, British Columbia, 1909
Mok-Hen, Chinese cook at Alpine club camp, British Columbia, 1909
Members of Alpine Club of Canada around the campfire, Lake O’Hara meadows, British Columbia, 1921
Pack train arriving at Alpine Club of Canada camp, British Columbia, 1921
Mr. Thomas B. Moffat examining a crevasse on the Victoria Glacier, Alberta, 1921
Dining tent and mess quarters at Alpine Club of Canada camp, Lake O’Hara meadows, British Columbia, 1921
Group climbing Mount Huber, British Columbia, 1912
Camping at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1921-1937
Cathedral Mountain, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1930s
Climbers overlooking Lake McArthur, British Columbia, n.d.
Shale Splitters Club at Lake Oesa, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1930s
Peter Whyte sketching at Lake McArthur, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1930s
Artists at the mouth of Opabin Creek, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1930s
Artists on Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1930s
Shale Splitters Club at Opabin Plateau, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1930s
Opabin Pass, Alberta, 1926
Mount Odaray in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1921-1937
Waterfall near O’Hara Lake in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1921-1937
Person fishing in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1921-1937
Cathedral Mountain in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1921-1937
Opabin Pass in Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1921-1937
Abbot Pass, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1920s

For additional posts about Yoho National Park, please visit my previous stories including Historic Photos of Yoho National Park, Yoho’s Stone Bugs, and A Collection of Historic Photos from Abbot Pass.

Lake O’Hara, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, 1920s

The photos above were collected from the Glenbow Archives. If you’re interested, additional information can be found for each photograph on the Glenbow website by searching the identification number that is printed on the photo. There is also the option to purchase a high resolution copy. Stay tuned for additional posts featuring historical photos from across Alberta. We’d love to know what you think in the comment section below.

About Tyler Dixon 196 Articles
Tyler is originally from Saskatchewan, and yes he cheers for the Roughriders, but don’t hold that against him as Calgary has been his home for the past eight years. He is a teacher working at a wilderness- based treatment program for youth working to overcome addiction. Tyler is also a volunteer with the GOT Parks initiative, which aims at reconnecting Canada’s youth with our national, provincial, and territorial parks. During his time away from work, Tyler enjoys outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and snowboarding, team sports, travelling, photography, spending time with good friends, and being at home with his wife and German Shepherd, Rome.