Great Canadian Parks / Alberta

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The Parks / Alberta / Jasper National Park








Maligne Canyon, formed 160 million years ago, is bounded on the northeast by Colin and Queen Elizabeth ranges; to the southwest are the more rounded slopes of the Maligne range. The Maligne River, named by Father de Smet, who attempted to cross the ‘wicked’ river in 1846, cut easily into limestone beds, carving its way down into layers of rock, making a V-shaped valley between the ranges. Waterfalls plunge 120 metres to join the Athabasca River on its way to the Arctic. Glacial ice up to 300 metres thick flowed down to the Athabasca carrying rocks scraped off the sides of the mountains, widening the valley into a U-shape and leaving behind the Maligne Lake. Mary Schaffer discovered Maligne Lake in 1908, by following the directions of Stoney Indians, and rafted down its length (22 kilometres) naming the mountain peaks. At an altitude of 1800 metres and ringed by snow-capped mountains, it is both the largest lake in the Rockies and the largest glacially formed lake in North America. The canyon is one of the three places in Alberta where black swifts are known to nest, and the Harlequin duck, endangered in eastern Canada, migrates inland to nest and feed here. Mosses and ferns live in potholes in the rock and fossils of snails, sea lilies and lampshells are found where ripple marks of ancient waves are imprinted on the rocks.

 





Archaeological evidence places native people in the Athabasca Valley as long ago as 9000 years, shortly after the big glaciers receded. They were boreal forest people from the northeast, mountain people from the west and plains people from the southeast, all nomadic hunters and fishers who moved across the valleys for thousands of years. The Sarcee culture had established itself by the time the European fur traders arrived, preceded by their small pox and guns, both carried by the eastern tribes such as the Iroquois, who quickly drove out the original inhabitants. David Thompson's expedition in 1811, to find a northern route over the Rockies, resulted in the building of a North West Company depot. It was later replaced with Jasper House. The Grand Trunk Railway, a competitor of the Canadian Pacific, reached Jasper in 1908 and Jasper National Park was established. Aboriginal and Metis land was expropriated - except for Lewis and Suzette Swifts' ranch, which they defended at gunpoint and succeeded in keeping as a land grant, refusing the $6000 buyout. It cost the federal government $227,850 to buy that parcel of land in 1962. In 1912, Grand Trunk officially opened its line from Edmonton to Jasper. Now called the Canadian National, it crosses the park and brings employment to many residents of Jasper.      

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