The CPR Swiss Guides

February 4th, 2021 2 Minutes
#1901.0050 CPR Swiss Guides – Photos courtesy of Columbia Basin Institute and Golden Museum and Archives

After a deadly accident in August 1896 on Mount Lefroy, the American Appalachian Mountain Club hired its first Swiss guide Peter Sarback, in 1897 to work in the Canadian Rockies. He would guide them on the first ascent of Mount Victoria.

In 1899, the first Swiss guides hired by the CPR were Christian Haesler Sr. and Eduard Feuz Sr. both from Interlaken. In 1900, Karl Schluneggar, Friedrich Michel, and Jacob Mueller joined the team. By 1912, the second generation of guides had arrived with Eduard’s sons Ed jr., Ernst, and Walter Feuz and Haesler’s son Christian jr. as well as Rudolf Aemmer and Christian Bohren. The first of the Swiss guides worked seasonally from May through September, most often based at Mount Stephen House in Field or Glacier House in the Rogers Pass, and then returned to their families in Switzerland.

The Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) was formed in Winnipeg in 1906 by Alfred O. Wheeler and Elizabeth Parker. The first general meeting commenced on March 1906, and the first camp in Yoho was planned for that summer. The CPR supported the ACC, arranging transport and supplying two Swiss guides for the general camp. This would begin a twenty-year relationship between the ACC and the CPR Swiss guides.

In 1912, the CPR built six Swiss-style chalets called the “Edelweiss village” for the guides and their families near Golden, B.C. The original houses still stand at the western entrance to Golden. Many guides would live with their wives and families in Canada year-round, often working as winter caretakers for the CPR hotels and lodges.

#1901.0039: Mount Stephen House, C.P.R., Field B.C. c.1898
Image courtesy of Columbia Basin Institute and Golden Museum and Archives

By 1925 the CPR Swiss guides had embarked on 250 first ascents in the Canadian Rockies with no fatal accidents. In fact, by the time Walter Perren, the last of the guides under contract with the CPR, was let go in 1954, there had never been a fatality involving guided expeditions. However, in 1939 Nick Morant, a CPR photographer, and guide Christian Haesler jr. were mauled by a mother grizzly near Sherbrooke Lake. Haesler never really recovered and died just over a year later.

The Swiss guides constructed the Abbot Pass hut in 1922 and 1923. The pass and the hut were named in honour of Philip Stanley Abbot, who died during the 1896 ascent of Mount Lefroy. It is still operated by the Alpine Club of Canada and offers accommodation for hikers. Another important building with a Swiss guide connection is the Plain of the Six Glaciers Tea House near Lake Louise, which the CPR built in 1924 under the recommendation of Ed Feuz. The Feuz family would run the Tea House for many years.

It still serves refreshments during the summer months.

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