The Mitchell Range straddles part of Kootenay National Park to the east of Kootenay River. It is the range with the “Heart of the Rockies.”
From 1857 until 1860, the British North American Exploring Expedition, often now referred to as the Palliser Expedition, travelled through western Canada between Lake Superior and over the Rocky Mountains to provide scientific research and information on the landscape, and to report on its potential for settlement and transportation. This is the fourth in a series of posts about the geographic features named during the Expedition’s travels through the Windermere Valley.
The Mitchell Range
The Mitchell Range, lying partly in Kootenay National Park, received its name in a similar fashion to that of the Brisco range. It lay alongside James Hector’s 1858 route through the Rocky Mountains. Hector does not make any particular note of the Mitchell range in either his 1858 journal or his 1858 expedition report, but the name appears on the 1858 map of the expedition’s travels.
The range is named after William Rowland Mitchell, a friend of Captain Arthur Brisco who was himself friends with the leader of the expedition, John Palliser. Mitchell accompanied Brisco as the two travelled through British North America for hunting and adventure, arriving at Fort Edmonton in August 1858.1 It seems that Hector named the Mitchell Range in October 1858 after returning to Fort Edmonton,2 where he met Mitchell and Brisco, and that the two were fortunate in being in the right place at the right time to both have geographical features named after them.
Who Was Mitchell?
William Rowland Mitchell was born 31 January 1829 to Francis Henry Mitchell and Frances Elizabeth Johnstone of 12 Upper Wimpole Street, London.3 I was not able to find a great deal of detail about Mitchell’s life. He had four brothers and five sisters, including two brothers who were members of the military, and the family was quite well off.4 When their father died in 1891, his personal estate amounted to upwards of £200,000.5
Mitchell was an avid traveller and hunter, with journeys to the West Indies, Africa, Australia, Mexico, the United States (including the 1849 California gold rush), and British North America.6
North American Travels
I was unable to determine how Mitchell and Brisco came to know each other, although both were born in the same year to wealthy English families. An account of Mitchell and Brisco’s time in British North America does not seem to have been widely published, although Mitchell apparently wrote “voluminous letters describing this adventure.” Copies of these letters are held by the Saskatchewan Archives,7 with the originals being with the Mitchell family in Dorset, England.8
Following their travels alongside the Palliser Expedition, Arthur Brisco returned home but William Mitchell reportedly stayed in North America for some years. He went to Toronto and did not return to England until just before his marriage in 1883.9 This marriage took place on 5 June 1883 to Ellen Edith Peto, the daughter of Sir Samuel Morton Peto,10 a prominent civil engineer involved heavily in railway construction and the Baptist church.11
Life in England
The new couple seem to have settled in Wiltshire where, in 1891, they were living in Wroughton Parish in a household with a governess for their four year old son (Roland Peto Johnstone Mitchell) as well as a butler, cook, housemaid, under house maid, kitchen maid and groom. Mitchell himself is recorded as “living on his means,” which is a rather nice way of saying that he was independently wealthy.12 William and Ellen went on to have another son, Henry Kelsall B Mitchell, in 1894.13
Sometime before 1911, William and Ellen moved to Seaborough Court in Dorsetshire.14 It was there that William Mitchell passed away on 21 February 1925 at the age of 96,15 leaving behind an estate of £153,613.16 His wife, Ellen, stayed at Seabourne Court where she passed away 8 October 1941.17 Both are buried in the Seaborough Churchyard.
The Mitchell Range straddles part of Kootenay National Park to the east of Kootenay River. It is the range with the “Heart of the Rockies.” The official boundaries of the Mitchell range are somewhat ambiguous. It is bounded by the Simpson and Vermilion Rivers to the north, Kootenay River to the west, the Cross River to the south, and Mitchell Creek to the east.
This all sounds straightforward until one looks at a map and realizes that the northeast boundary of the range (between the headwaters of the Mitchell and Simpson Rivers) is not at all obvious. Glen Boles, for example, places Nestor Peak in the Assiniboine Group and Simpson Ridge, upon which Nestor Peak is located, in the Mitchell range.18
I haven’t been able to reconcile all of this, so for the moment I’ve drawn a line to the headwaters of Mitchell River (Cerulean Lake) and as far up to the headwaters of Simpson Creek as I can. It seem that the boundary between the two is anyone’s guess.
I always check out the “Heart of the Rockies” when travelling through Kootenay National Park. Very timely as this is the Centennial year for KNP.
Thanks again Alex. Makes my travels even more meaningful.
Thanks Louise. It’s one of my favourite features in the park as well! Surprises me how long it’s been around.