Mitchell Range

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.

Mitchell’s Range as it originally appears on the 1858 map of the Palliser Expedition. Hector’s route is in blue. John Palliser; John Arrowsmith, British North American Exploration Expedition: country between the Red River settlement and the Rocky Mountains, showing the various routes of the expedition, under the command of Captn John Palliser, 1857 & 1858. Irish Academic Press.

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.

The Mitchell Range with the distinct “Heart of the Rockies”. Windermere Valley Museum, C173

From Highway 93 into the Mitchell Range with the “Heart of the Rockies”. Photo: Alex Weller, 2012.

See Also

James Hector
John Palliser
Edward Sabine
Arthur Brisco


1. John Palliser, Exploration – British North America. The Journals, detailed reports and observation srelative to the exploration, by Captain Palliser…. during the years 1857, 1858, 1859, and 1860 (London: G.E. Eyre and W. Spottiswoode, 1863): p 116.
2. James Hector, Enclosure 1 in No.8 (9 October 1858) IN John Palliser, Exploration – British North America: Papers relative to the exploration by Captain Palliser… June 1859 (London: G.E. Eyre & W. Spottiswoode, 1859): p 38.
3. “England Births and Christenings, 1538-1975,” database, Family Search. William Rowland Mitchell, 1829.
4. J Montgomery Seaver, Mitchell Family Records (American Historical-Genealogical Society: Philadelphia, 1900): p 9-10.
5. “Will of Mr F.H. Mitchell,” Daily News (London), 21 October 1891, p 6.
6. Irene M Spry, The Papers of the Palliser Expedition, 1857-1860 (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1968): p 603.
7. The collection includes 20 letters written by Mitchell, dated between 17 May 1857 and 29 February 1860, sent to family in London. The collection also includes typewritten transcripts. They can be accessed in the Saskatchewan Archives Reading Room in Regina. Correspondence from William Roland Mitchell to Mother and Father, 17 May 1857 to 29 February 1860, File: R-E2658, William Roland Mitchell Fonds, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
8. Richard I. Ruggles, Calgary Institute for the Humanities, Rupert’s Land: A Cultural Tapestry (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1988), p 210.
9. Irene M Spry, The Papers of the Palliser Expedition, 1857-1860 (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1968): p 603.
10. “Marriages,” The Times (London, England), 8 June 1883, p 1.
11. “Death of Sir S. Morton Peto, Bart,” Daily News (London, England), 16 Nov 1889, p 6.
12. “England and Wales Census, 1891,” database with images, FamilySearch. Roland J Mitchel in household of William R Mitchel, Wroughton, Wiltshire, England, United Kingdom.
13. “England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007,” database, FamilySearch. Henry Kelsall B Mitchell, 1979; citing Death Registration, Yeovil, Somerset, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.
14. “England and Wales Census, 1911,” database, FamilySearch. William Rowland Mitchell, Nether Compton, Dorset, England, United Kingdom.
15. England, Dorset, Parish Registers, 1538-2001″, database with images, FamilySearch. William Kowland [sic] Mitchell, 1925.
16. “Recent Wills,” The Guardian (London, England), 26 May 1925, p 4.
17. “England and Wales, National Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1957,” database, FamilySearch. Ellen Edith Mitchell, 3 Jul 1942; citing Probate, Dorset, England, United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Great Britain.
18. Glen Boles, Canadian Mountain Place Names: The Rockies and Columbia Mountains (Calgary: Rocky Mountain Books, 2006): p 182 (Nestor Peak), 228 (Simpson Ridge).



BC Geographical Names, “Mitchell Range,” Accessed 17 September 2020.



2 thoughts on “Mitchell

  1. 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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s