Often those who did all the work get little of the credit, while those who put on the finishing touches get it all. Such is the case for Mr. Walter Moberly and Major Albert Bowman Rogers.

Mr. Moberly was one of the earliest, most prominent and most energetic of surveyors and engineers connected with the opening up and development of the mainland of British Columbia.


In 1858, Mr. Moberly travelled from eastern Canada to the west coast on the steamer Hermann, via Cape Horn, his intention being to ascertain whether a route could be found through the mountains of British Columbia to link with eastern Canada.


In the winter of 1859-60, Mr. Moberly met Capt. Palliser and his party at Victoria:

Moberly’s personal experience of exploring in a mountainous and heavily timbered country, without roads or trails, rendered him skeptical of the truth of this report, and he now lost no time in organizing a light party to explore the Gold, Selkirk and Rocky Mountains. He soon reached Shuswap Lake and made a hurried trip to its south arm, noticing a valley running easterly, apparently through the Gold range, exactly in the direction in which he wished to find a pass.


In his report to Mr. Sandford Fleming, Engineer-in-chief of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Moberly gives this account of how Eagle Pass got it name:

Upon reaching the Columbia River, Moberly sent his Indians back to the head of Shuswap Lake for more supplies, built a log canoe, and with Perry, ‘the mountaineer’, and an Indian boy, started down the Columbia River to connect with a branch party he had sent from Kamloops to the head of the Arrow Lakes. The following is an account of their journey down the Columbia River:

Moberly on the Mountain Subdivision 1887, once the site of a flag station, is located near where Walter Soberly made his camp on the Columbia River.

Click on image to enlarge/reduce.

Mr. Moberly returned to his depot on the Columbia, above the ‘Little Dalles’, and organized for his exploration into the Selkirks. He entered the range by the deep gorge like valley of a river joining the Columbia from the east immediately opposite the mouth of the Eagle Pass. This river he named ‘Illecillewaet’ River. It was so designated by the Indians he had with him and means “a very rapid stream”. The exploration proved a most difficult undertaking, owing to the extreme ruggedness of the country; the quantity of fallen timber, the dense underbrush, and the incessant cold rain float fell in torrents until he reached the Forks of the river. He then proceeded to explore the North Fork, on which the party killed a grizzly bear of enormous size, and also a caribou. Finding no practicable pass, he returned to the Forks, with the intention of crossing the range by the southeasterly branch, but winter had set in and the snow began to fall, the scanty stock of provisions was exhausted and the Indians declined to go on, as they feared their squaws and children, left on the Columbia River, would starve if they did not get back before the rivers and creeks were frozen up. So he was compelled to report that the only feasible pass through the Selkirk range would probably be by the southeasterly branch of the Illecillewaet River.

In July of 1871 British Columbia joined Confederation and by the terms of union the railway was to be completed to the Pacific coast within ten years. Shortly after the organization of the Canadian Pacific railway survey parties in 1871, Mr. Walter Moberly commissioned with completing the surveys between Great Shuswap Lake and the vicinity of Fort Edmonton, on the North Saskatchewan River, via the Howse and Eagle passes. These surveys were a part of the general scheme of exploration, organized to ascertain the cheapest and best route through the several mountain ranges to the Pacific Coast. Mr. Moberly had charge of two parties, designated respectively 'S' and ‘T.’ Party ‘S’ was at work on the east side of the Selkirk range, and party 'T' on the west side. Both spent the winter of 1871-72 in camp on the ground, the former at a point some miles south of the confluence of the Columbia and Blaeberry rivers, and the latter at the 'Big Eddy,' close to the mouth of the Eagle Pass. The camp near the Blaeberry River, which stream is followed to reach the Howse Pass through the main range of the Rockies, formed Mr. Moberly’s headquarters.


The following spring, 1872, it having been decided to adopt the Yellowhead Pass for the line of the transcontinental railway, Mr. Moberly was instructed to discontinue his surveys in the Columbia River Valley. He oversaw the surveys through the Yellowhead Pass and east and west from it, until the end of 1873 after which he took no further part in great public enterprises.


The good work that he did and the prominent part that he took in opening up and giving access to the resources of the interior of British Columbia has never been fully recognized.


In 1881 - 1882 Major Rogers, acting on observations of the Illecillewaet River Valley noted in reports by Moberly, discovered which now bears his name. It was part of his agreement of employment with the Canadian Pacific Railway that a pass, should it be found by him, be named after him.


Walter Moberly had a mountain peak in the Rockies east of the location of his 1871 – 1872 winter camp named after him, and a flag station named that no longer exists.




The Selkirk Range, A. O. Wheeler, Ottawa Printing Bureau 1905.



September 19, 2016

September 19, 2016


Walter Soberly circa 1887.

Source: Wiki Commons.

Click on image to enlarge/reduce.

‘Capt. Palliser reported that all hopes of obtaining a feasible line by which to construct a railway through British Columbia would have to be abandoned, as the “Gold” range of the mountains, immediately to the west of the Columbia river, presented an unbroken and impassable barrier.’


The Selkirk Range

‘In the summer of 1865, I was exploring the Gold Range of mountains for the Government of British Columbia to see if there was any pass through them. I arrived at the Eagle River and on the top of a tree near its mouth I saw a nest full of eaglets, and the two old birds on a limb of the same tree. I had nothing but a small revolver in the shape of firearms; this I discharged eight or ten times at the nest, but could not knock it down. The two old birds, after circling round the nest, flew up the valley of the river; it struck me then, if I followed them, I might find the much wished for pass. I explored the valley two or three weeks afterwards and, having been successful in finding a good pass, I thought the most appropriate name I could give it was the “Eagle Pass”.’


The Selkirk Range

‘We swept along at a grand rate and, at last, found the river getting narrow, with high rocky banks and overhanging cliffs. I was in the middle of the canoe taking bearings, estimating distances, etc., the Indian boy in the bow and Perry steering. The boy suddenly exclaimed: “Wake closhe chuck-konaway nameluce”, which is: “Bad water - all will be killed”; he put in his paddle and lay down in the bottom of the canoe. I crawled over him and, getting hold of his paddle, Perry and I managed to keep the canoe out of the whirls that threatened to suck us down. At one moment we were on the edge of one of these dangerous places, and the next swept a hundred yards away by a tremendous “boil”. Sometimes one end of the canoe became the bow, and at other times the opposite end, but at length we reached a little sandy cove and landed in still water. We had run the “Little Dalles” without knowing it.’


The Selkirk Range

The fork in the Illecillewaet River on the Mountain Subdivision 1887 at present day Albert Canyon. Soberly chose to explore the north fork (left). The pass (named Rogers Pass) was found on the east fork (centre).

Click on image to enlarge/reduce.

Soberly Flag Station on the Mountain Subdivision 1887 looking south towards Golden.

Click on image to enlarge/reduce.