Kananaskis is an area steeped in history and outdoor recreation from its beginnings.
The mountains that we see today were once covered in ice from the Bow Valley Glaciers. These Glaciers shaped Kananaskis into the dramatic landscape we now enjoy. From the beginning of mankind, we've been attracted to this place. Archeologists have identified traces of inhabitance dating back to 4500 B.C. During the early 1800’s, Kananskis was inhabited by the Stoney and Blackfoot Indian Tribes and they battled regularly for this wilderness paradise. They were master outdoorsmen living off the land, hunting, fishing and wandering many of the areas that we frequent today. European settlers hadn't discovered Kananaskis yet and the region provided a significant food source with abundant wildlife, an access point to cross the mountains into the vast prairie, and a spiritually significant area to
On March 31, 1857 the president of the Royal Geographical Society, Sir Roderick Murchison appointed John Palliser to be the leader of the ultimate road trip. Palliser headed an expedition intended to explore the vast lands of the west traveling by horse, cart and canoe. He was accompanied by Lieutenant Blackiston, Mr Bourgeau (astronomer) and Dr. Hector (geologist). The group set out from Sault Ste Marie passing through Michigan, Manitoba and across the prairies to spend the winter of 1857, alongside the North Saskatchewan River.
In the summer of 1858, Palliser’s team made the most important discovery of all, Kananaskis (we may be biased). On August 20, 1858, the team stood looking across the mountain range, as Palliser made the following entry into his notes: "Two very conspicuous mountains at a distance of about 12 miles to the south of us flank the height of land across which we shall have to pass to gain the western side of the Watershed." Palliser had just discovered Kananaskis Pass and on October 7, 1858 he wrote: "I am rejoiced to say that I have completely succeeded in discovering not only a pass practicable for horses, but one which, with but little expense, could be rendered available for carts also ... The Pass is situated precisely where I had long supposed...” Although widely accepted as the Kananskis Pass, it is now debated with many believing that Palliser had in fact discovered what we know today as Elk Pass, not Kananaskis Pass.
John Palliser is believed to also be responsible for the most contentious piece of Kananaskis’s history… it’s name. Kananaskis is often said to be derived from a Cree word meaning, “meeting of the waters.” However the Cree didn’t inhabit Kananaskis and it certainly does not mean “meeting of the waters.” In fact, "sakita-waw," is the proper Cree word to describe “meeting of the waters”. Kananaskis is rumored to have been derived from “Kin-e-ah-kis.” Kin-e-ah-kis was a well known native who was attacked by another man with an axe. It was said that this was an altercation over a woman and that the attack took place at Seebe, where the Bow River and Kananaskis River meet. Accounts differ as to whether or not Kin-e-ah-kis survived. “Kin-e-ah-kis” is translated to mean “one who is grateful,” so for the sake of his name, lets hope he survived. Another form of confusion may come from “Nakiska” (an area inside Kananaskis) which is a Cree name translated to mean “meeting place”.
Despite all this controversy, the local Stoney Tribe that still inhabits the area where Palliser camped, have always referred to the Kananaskis area as "ozada" or, "oz-ada imne.” Ozada does mean “where rivers meet” in the Stoney Langauge.
The first church in Southern Alberta was erected in 1872 by Irish Roman Catholic Priest's, Father Constantine Scollen O.M.I (1841-1902) and Father Leon Doucet O.M.I (1847-1942). Our Lady of Peace Memorial stands on the location of the first church, nearby the intersection of HWY 8 and HWY 22. The two fathers lived among and evangelized with the Stoney and Blackfoot. In September of 1877, Chief Jacob Bearspaw, Chief Jacob Goodstoney and Chief John Chiniki agreed to move their people to the Morley Reserve under Treaty No 7. Many years later the Wesley and Bearspaw Nations obtained the Eden Valley and Bighorn Reserve in 1948.