The Shining Mountains

Posted on: June 8, 2015


Don Frache's mural Chamber of Jewels (acrylic on canvas, 1984) commemorates the birthplace of Canada's national park system, with William and Thomas McCardell and Frank McCabe's 1883 "discovery" of the Cave and Basin hot springs—which were already known to First Nations people. The mural hung at the Cave and Basin National Historic Site until renovations in 2013. The current interpretation no longer focuses exclusively on this moment, and now includes a Nakoda perspective. [Photo] Courtesy of Parks Canada

NOBODY KNOWS WHEN THE NAME "The Rocky Mountains" first came into being. Two French Canadian explorers, Louis-Joseph Gaultier de La Verendrye and his brother Francois, might have brought the term "montagnes Rocheuses" back to New France from their 1742 explorations in the foothills of Wyoming. Jacques Repentigny Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, commander at Fort La Jonquiere on the Saskatchewan River, might have made up the name a decade later—or had it translated from the Cree word Usinnewucheyu or Assinwati. We only know that he recorded the words "Montagnes de Roche" in a journal detailing his futile search for the Western Sea. A host of general names would have circulated throughout the colonial languages—English, French, Spanish—since the early 1500s.

But there were always other names.

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