Bill Peyto Rocky Mountain Guide and Outfitter

E.W. "Bill" Peyto, 1902, Fear Brothers, Photographer, Bill Peyto fonds,
(NA66-465), Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

"I've guided all kinds of people into the mountains. At first they are hesitant, maybe with a healthy fear of bears or other animals. Some get frustrated just trying to get out of town, and for some it's all those things that Tom mentions, but once they are well outfitted and in the real wilderness they seem to open up like a high alpine meadow,"
– Bill Peyto

The story of Bill Peyto is just one of the many stories in the new Gateway to the Rockies exhibition being developed by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.  We want your input and feedback on this permanent (ten year life) exhibition that we are planning to open at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in the spring of 2012. Tell us what you think of this and the other concepts and stories featured here. Let us know how you think we could make this exhibition more interesting. Please keep in mind that this is a draft of the storyline, not the finished product. As the stories develop, information will be updated.

Bill Peyto (1868-1943), an immigrant from England, became an excellent guide, earning the respect of local mountain men and travellers alike with his ability to traverse some of the most dangerous areas in Banff National Park, with his charges in tow.

Peyto travelled from coast to coast before settling down in Banff to try his hand at a variety of careers such as working for the CPR, homesteading and prospecting, before he entered the outfitting business with Tom Wilson in 1894. His reputation as an outstanding trail guide grew over the next six years, as he led parties through difficult terrain with varied success rates, depending on the climbers and surface conditions.

J. Norman Collie, a highly regarded climber who knew Peyto, wrote that, "Peyto assumes a wild and picturesque though somewhat tattered attire. A sombrero, with a rakish tilt to one side, a blue shirt set off by a white kerchief (which may have served civilization for a napkin), and a buckskin coat with a fringe border, add to his cowboy appearance."

"The story of his battle with the world, his escapades and sufferings of hunger and exposure not to mention the dreams and ambitions of a keen imagination with their consequent disappointments, has served to entertain many an evening hour," Collie recalled.

After the Boer War broke out in South Africa, Peyto en­listed in the Strathcona Horse regiment in 1900, serving through the entire campaign with the group, and taking part in many battles. A year after he joined, Peyto returned to Canada, and was honoured by the citizens of Banff for his dedication.

Two years later he married a British Columbian girl named Emily Wood, who gave birth to a son, Robert W.F. Peyto, before her death in 1906. Once his wife died, Peyto's son Robert was sent to live with his mother's relatives.

Peyto decided to move on to prospecting and trapping, giving up the outfitting business for a more solitary existence until, in 1913, he became one of Banff's first park wardens. In 1915 he hung up his warden coat to take up arms for the country once again, this time serving in the First World War. Peyto was posted to a machine gun brigade and served until he was wounded at Hooge. He recovered from his injury and returned to Canada in 1917, returning to his old post of park warden until 1918 when he became the game warden. His effort as a warden did not go unnoticed, as he continually proved himself to be not only an efficient, but valuable member of the warden community. His previous career as a trail guide served him well, and he utilized many of the skills devel­oped over those years to their full extent.  Peyto retired in 1934, and from that point on until his death in 1943 he maintained a relatively private lifestyle.

In life he proved to be one of the most colourful characters of Banff, showing a zest for life not unlike that of his fellow Rocky Mountain pioneers. Peyto Lake, just to the north of Bow Pass, was named because of Peyto's need to enjoy some privacy while travelling through the area. A regular campsite along the route between Lake Louise and the Saskatchewan River was at Bow Summit. It is said that Peyto would sometimes spend the night by himself at the lake, remarking to others at the campsite that, "It's just too crowded around here for me." For this reason the lake became known as Peyto Lake.

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