Vintage Photographs from Rocky Mountain House

The Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company, competing fur-trade entities, both established trading posts in 1799 near the confluence of the North Saskatchewan and Clearwater Rivers, in what became known as Rocky Mountain House. Each company had similar goals of exploring routes to the Pacific and establishing valuable trade connections with local Indigenous communities. The two companies were in a business war with each other until 1821, when they merged under a single name; the Hudson’s Bay Company, although the North West Company name remained on the post at this site.

Peigan at Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, 1871

Many different Indigenous communities would trade fur and pemmican for goods like tea, firearms, gunpowder, axes, glass beads, copper pots, and more. According to historical records the Ktunaxa (Kootenay, Kootenai, Kutenai), Piikani (Peigan), Kainai (Blood), Siksika (Blackfoot), Tsuut’ina (Sarcee, Sarsi), Atsina (Fall, Waterfall, Rock, Gros Ventre, Big Belly, A’aninen), Nakoda (Stoney, Assiniboine), and Nehiyawak (Cree) People all traded goods at the Rocky site.

Bruce Otto beside one of the chimneys, 1902

Trade existed here for 76 years. During that time there were at least three different forts, all built in roughly the same area and all bearing the Rocky Mountain House name, although one was called Acton House. As was the custom, these forts were only occupied during the winter months and traders would abandon them in the spring for the better-supplied Fort Edmonton.

Team and buggy on Canadian Northern Railway, 1911

You can’t mention Rocky Mountain House without talking about David Thompson. Thompson worked for the North West Company and used its fort as his base for exploratory expeditions through the Rockies. With the help of Indigenous guides, Thompson created two fur trading routes through the mountainous terrain. His first route was through Howse Pass, but due to conflict with the Nitsitapii, the Athabasca Pass was later established. David Thompson married Charlotte Small in 1799 and their first child was born in Rocky in 1801. Twelve more children would follow. The couple stayed married until their deaths in 1857, which occurred just three months apart. Thompson is credited as one of Canada’s greatest map makers, having documented some 3.9 million square-kilometres. His exploits helped lay the foundation for this country.

View of chimneys, 1900

Today, Rocky Mountain House is known as the place ‘Where Adventure Begins’. The David Thompson Highway (Highway 11) travels through gorgeous Foothills landscape before terminating at Rocky Mountain House, which is a gateway to the spectacular Rocky Mountains.

Canadian Pacific Railway station, 1912
Canyon on the Brazeau River, Alberta, 1912-1915
Ferry crossing North Saskatchewan River, 1908
Remains of chimneys, 1900s
Alberta Central Railway pack horses, 1910
Ed Good’s REO car, 1912
Canadian Pacific Railway bridge over North Saskatchewan River, 1910-1929
Train wreck on Canadian Northern Western Railway near Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, 1912
Ruins of Hudson’s Bay Company fort at Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, 1916
Logging camp west of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, 1925
Logging, 1925
Oil derrick, west of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, 1914-1916
Main Street, 1913-1914
Wagons and buggy on ferry, 1913-1914
Ram River falls, Alberta, 1913-1914
Frank Howse, Metis, 1916
Mountview Hotel, 1913-1919
Hospital, 1940
Bird’s eye view in winter, 1940
Cairn at Historic Site, 1940
Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1920

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 179 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.