Tom Wilson Rocky Mountain Guide and Outfitter

“You’ll never leave the mountains as long as you live.” -- A.B. Rogers to Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson, 1929, Fred Brewster fonds, (V86 / PA178-99) Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

The story of Tom Wilson 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.

Born in Ontario in 1859, Tom Wilson made his way west to become one of the most respected guides in the Canadian Rockies. He became the first white man to see Lake Louise.

Always excited by tales of the West, as a young man in 1880, Tom Wilson joined the Northwest Mounted Police at Fort Walsh, but he soon tired of the routine life. He joined a survey party heading west to find a way through the mountains for the railroad. He began packing supplies for a hundred men from Calgary to Morleyville, where he settled on a parcel of land given to him by James Irvine Brewster. In his spare time he started exploring the hills and valleys on either side of the trail. Major A.B. Rogers had been hired to find a route for the railway through the Canadian Rockies. In 1881, Wilson became A.B. Rogers’ personal assistant and with the Major, continued to explore new routes, learning the lay of the land in a way that would lay the foundation for the rest of his life in the Rockies.

One night while camping on Pipestone Creek in 1882, he and his First Nations Guide heard avalanches in the distance. His guide told him that the sound was coming from “Snow Mountain” above the “Lake of the Little Fishes.” He set out to find it and he became the first white man to lay eyes on the wonder of Mount Victoria and Lake Louise. “As God is my judge, I never in all my explorations saw such a matchless scene,” he said. He named it Emerald Lake, but the name was later changed to honour Queen Victoria’s daughter, Louise.

When he could no longer tolerate working for the sore-tempered Major A.B. Rogers as a surveyor, he started a packing business for climbers and tourists. He guided Sir James Outram to Mount Assiniboine for the first ascent of that peak. He followed old trapper routes north through unmapped country along the North Saskatchewan River, where he eventually wintered his horses. When he sold his packing business in Banff, he decided to open a trading post in his cabin there to trade with First Nations people who were still hunting in the area. He spent summers in Banff with his family.

Wilson was a great reader and throughout his trail-riding days he never travelled without a packhorse loaded with books. As he grew older and settled in Banff, he built up a library of books about the Canada’s northwest. Drawing on his own adventurous life, he became known as a great storyteller. Tom Wilson died in 1933.

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