The Naming of CrossRiver Wilderness Centre
“colossal walls...with the most beautiful scenery in nature spread out [before us]...all was wild sublimity.”
—PIERRE-JEAN de SMET, Journal entry while traversing the Rockies
via the Cross River Vallery, 1845
The story of how we chose our name is a good one. We drew inspiration from the story of how the Cross River itself got its name, which is intricately connected to the history and nature of the region. This was a very important consideration for us, as we wanted to have a name we could continue to grow into, while also acting as a reminder of our reciprocal participation with the natural world and history around us. We believe we have found a name that does this. We also wanted a name that could hint at our balance between integral sharing and communal spirit with the surrounding natural world, relationships, and history, without simply, and perhaps
disrespectfully, re-appropriating a name from our regional history or nature to bend to
human-centered desires. We felt the best way to achieve this balance was to embody in our name a point where the human and non-human, living, stories, and not just our names, cross. This living balance is also one reason why we are a Wilderness Centre rather than a Resort; and this is our story.
In 1841, a Belgian, Jesuit missionary, Pierre-Jean de Smet, was invited by the Ktunaxa (Kootenay) people to live with them on the west side of the Rocky Mountains. Both Father de Smet and the Ktunaxa people learned much from each other, and the Ktunaxa grew to respect him tremendously. By 1845, however, Father de Smet became increasingly disheartened by the amount of fighting going on between his friends, the Kootenay, and the Blackfoot people, who lived on the east side of the Rocky Mountains. As a believer in the inherent goodness of and equality between all peoples and cultures, he decided to travel across the Rocky Mountains on a mission to bring peace to the two tribes. He headed North through the southern Columbia Valley, and entered the main ranges of the Rocky Mountains along what is today the Kootenay River. Near where CrossRiver Wilderness Centre is today, he turned eastward along a smaller river, and crossed over into the eastern mountain ranges via what is today White Man Pass. On top of the pass, close to the source of this smaller river, Father de Smet knew he was now at the highest point of his journey - what was referred to in his time as “The Height of Land” (the Continental Divide today). As a symbol for his mission, he erected a large wooden cross here before descending down to the eastern plains and the Blackfoot people. Father de Smet is still to this day remembered by both the Ktunaxa and Blackfoot people as a kind and respectful person in their histories. And even as his wooden cross began to deteriorate, the nearby small river running down into the Kootenay River, began to embody the spirit of De Smet’s mission for inter-cultural peace, and became known as the Cross River.
This river still inspires this quality in our world today, and has been sometimes referred to colloquially as the “river of peace.” CrossRiver Wilderness Centre today crosses story-paths with the Cross River, the natural world around, and the history of this Rocky Mountain region through this same spirit of peace, inter-cultural sharing, community, inspiration, and wonder. People from all cultures and backgrounds have passed through the land out here, and whether they choose to relax in a mountain accommodation on their own itinerary, or participate with us in a guided adventure, inter-cultural sharing opportunity, or wilderness awareness program, this living spirit continues to touch, move, and inspire all of us in myriad ways.