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Photo: Mount Lady Macdonald from Highway #1, near Harvie Heights

Mount Lady Macdonald

  • 2606 m (8,550ft)
  • First Ascent
  • Naming History
51.1214N -115.318W
Located in the Bow River Valley north of Cougar Creek

Range: Fairholme
Province: Alberta
Headwater: Bow
Major Valley: Bow
Visible from Highway: 1, 742
Ascent Date: 1886
Ascent Party: J.J. McArthur
Year Named: 1886
Named for: Macdonald, Susan Agnes (The wife of Canada's first prime minister, Lady Macdonald travelled to Vancouver on the new railway with her husband in 1886. She enjoyed her time in the Rockies, travelling much of the time on the cowcatcher of the locomotive.)

Mount Charles Stewart is a long ridge that parallels the Bow Valley to the northeast of Canmore. Mount Lady Macdonald lies at the southeastern end of the ridge. Princess Margaret Mountain and the unofficially named, "Squaw's Tit" are outliers of Mount Charles Stewart. Both are at the ends of ridges that extend to the southwest and so are prominent when viewed from the Bow Valley and the Town of Canmore. The boundary of Banff National Park includes Princess Margaret Mountain and passes through the highest point of Mount Charles Stewart. A prominent high point on the main ridge of Mount Charles Stewart lies 1.6 km southeast of the main summit, but is approximatly 150 feet lower than the main, broader summit

The year after the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald crossed the country to try it out. He was joined by his wife, Lady Macdonald, who seems to have been a rather interesting woman.

At Laggan Station (Lake Louise) Lady Macdonald noticed the broad shining surface of the buffer-beam and cowcatcher at the front of the locomotive. She decided that this would be an exciting place to ride during the journey through the Kicking Horse Pass. The railway superintendent pointed out the inconveniences and dangers of riding on a locomotive's cowcatcher through the Rockies, asking what Lady Macdonald intended to use as a seat. She looked around and noticed a candlebox nearby and declared that it would be perfect. When asked for his opinion, Sir John A. stated that the idea was, "rather ridiculous."

The railway superintendent felt that he should be present in case anything went wrong so he took his place next to Lady Macdonald on the candle box for the trip from Laggan to Field. As the train departed, Lady Macdonald declared, "This is lovely, quite lovely! I shall travel on this cowcatcher from summit to sea." At one point in the journey, Sir John A. joined her on the cowcatcher. However he seemed to have been more comfortable in the comfort of the observation car, possibly enjoying single malt scotch.

Of her trip that day she later wrote, "There is glory of brightness and beauty everywhere, and I laugh aloud on the cowcatcher, just because it is all so delightful."

Susan Agnes Macdonald wrote of her experiences on the railway trip through the Rockies in an article entitled, "By Car and Cow Catcher" in Murray's Magazine. The article, and a photo of the Macdonalds, may be seen in "Tales of the Canadian Rockies" by Brian Patton.

Lady Macdonald spent a portion of each day of the journey to the Pacific on the cowcatcher, once as a forest fire skirted the edge of the track.

The mountain honouring this remarkable lady lies to the north of the CPR tracks as they pass through Canmore. Lake Agnes, about Lake Louise, was named in her honour as well after she hiked to the lake with Willoughby Astley, the first manager of the chalet at Lake Louise.

It seems likely that Mount Lady Macdonald was the first of the Canadian Rockies to be climbed by James McArthur. In his 1886 Department of the Interior report, he wrote, "The first ascent was up the mountain on the north side of the valley and directly behind Canmore Station. The Bow River flows at the base of this mountain in a valley one to two miles wide, and on the opposite side appear Rundle MountainsThe Three SistersCascade Mountain.

[See "By Car and Cowcatcher" by Susan Agnes Macdonald; The story may be found in "Tales of the Canadian Rockies" by Brian Patton]

["The Lady on the Cowcatcher" by Edgar A. Collard is a story written for children. It may be found in, "Souvenirs" edited by Adrienne Coull. This is part of the Alberta Heritage Learning Resources Project, 1980]

[An excellent photo of Lady Macdonald is found on page 12 of "Lake Louise -A Diamond in the Wilderness" by Jon Whyte and Carole Harmon]

Photo: Mount Lady Macdonald from Highway #1A, just east of Canmore