Canadian greats: a celebration of Canadians who shaped the travel industry

By Tully Luxury Travel in Cruise Professionals on

Covering an area of nearly four million square miles, surrounded by three oceans and the longest coastline in the world, Canada is big by all standards. With all that space, it’s no wonder Canadians love to travel and explore. In honor of Canada’s 150th birthday, we’re profiling Canadians that contributed to the travel industry as we know it today.

From explorers and cartographers to aviators and conservationists, many Canadians shaped how and where we travel today. Here is just a sampling of some of the greats, who opened up possibilities for generations of travelers to come.

David Thompson

Image Credit: Robert Carter

Many early explorers are credited for charting Canada, but it was David Thompson who created the best Canadian maps of his generation. A fur trader, Thompson spent years following Aboriginal routes from Hudson’s Bay to the Pacific Ocean. In 1796, he traced the length of the Fond du Lac River on a harrowing journey in what is now northeast Saskatchewan. His observations resulted in his “Great Map” of 1815, which was used as the go-to map for years.

Sir John A. Macdonald

Library and Archives Canada

Sir John A. Macdonald is famous not just as Canada’s first Prime Minister but as the man who pushed for a railway to unite Canada from east to west. Building of the railway was rife with trouble, including the resignation of Macdonald (who was later reelected) but was necessary for national unity. The last spike connecting the railway was symbolically put into the ground in Craigellachie, British Columbia in 1885 and Canada was officially linked through rail, opening up opportunities for travel and commerce like never before.

The Big Four:

Program for the 1912 Calgary Stampede featuring the four sponsors

In the summer of 1912, an American cowboy named Guy Weadick approached four wealthy Calgary cattlemen with a proposal to create a large wild west show. The four men — Patrick Burns, George Lane, A.E. Cross and Archibald J. McLean — took a gamble and each put up $25,000 that first year. The show was a great success and became the foundation for the Calgary Stampede. Billed as “the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”, the Stampede now attracts one million visitors annually. The Big Four continue to be part of the modern-day Stampede with a building named after them.

James B. Harkin:

A journalist with a passion for conservation, James B. Harkin became the first commissioner of the National Parks of Canada in 1911. Known as the “father of national parks”, Harkin oversaw the establishment of parks across Canada. His vision was not only for conservation, but also for tourism: he wanted people to be able to enjoy some of Canada’s best scenery and thus set out to create infrastructure to allow this to happen. He was instrumental in creating access to many parks, including the first road across the Rockies and the Banff-Jasper Highway.

Alex and Myrtle Phillip:

The Phillips on the Pemberton Trail, en route to Alta Lake, August 1911

For anyone who has visited Whistler recently, it is hard to imagine the village as anything other than a booming ski town. But when Alex and Myrtle Phillip arrived at what was then known as Alta Lake, there wasn’t even a road on which to travel. The pioneering couple took a boat to Squamish B.C. and then hiked for two days with their guide to reach the area. They purchased 10 acres of land and built the legendary Rainbow Lodge, which opened in 1914, the same year that a railway link to the area was established. The lodge became the most popular summer destination west of the Rocky Mountains and put Whistler on the tourism map.

Albert Earl Godfrey:

A hero of the First World War, Albert Earl Godfrey became a legend in the aviation world when he piloted — along with American James D. McKee — the first trans-Canada flight from Montreal to Vancouver. The year was 1926 and the flight, done in 11 hops, took nine days. A few years later, Godfrey completed another flight, from Ottawa to Vancouver, that only took three days. His bravery and sense of adventure paved the way for modern air travel that can now take us across Canada in just a few hours.

Hans Gmoser:

Photo Credit: Canadian Mountain Holidays

A mountaineering legend, Hans Gmoser was a pioneer of Canada’s ski and adventure tourism industry. He opened the largest mountain adventure operation in the country, Canadian Mountain Holidays, which offered guided mountain hiking and skiing. Always pushing the boundaries of mountain adventures, Gmoser introduced the world to heli-skiing in the 1960s and, a decade later, to heli-hiking. He had many firsts under his belt: first to reach the summit of Mount Blackburn in Alaska, first Canadian ascent on the East Ridge of Mount Logan, and the first to lead an ascent of Wickersham Wall on Mount Mckinley, the highest mountain in North America. Gmoser was also a filmmaker, producing 10 feature-length films to promote skiing and climbing in Western Canada.

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