Waterton Glacier International Peace Park History

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Park History

From prehistoric days to the present, Waterton Glacier International Peace Park's claim to fame has been its beauty and its trade routes. The eastern prairies of Montana and Alberta were home to great herds of American bison, or buffalo, which were a primary food source to many native peoples in the region. The Blackfeet people of the northern plains dominated "The Backbone of the World" long before any European explorer confronted the area now known as the Rocky Mountains. Read More

Native Beliefs
The region's native peoples believe that spiritual beings or values live in every feature of the land. As one Blackfeet elder put it, everything under the sky has a voice to speak with and knowledge to tell.

As the mountains of Glacier and Waterton were thought to be home to spirits, members of many area tribes would journey there on vision quests. Chief Mountain, in the northeast corner of Glacier, was widely revered as the home of powerful medicine. Its authority is easy to recognize, given its unusual appearance. It stands in the prairie away from the rest of the mountains, like a warrior chief leading his tribe to the rising sun.

The First European Explorers Arrive
British trapper David Thompson is generally credited as the first European to record his impressions of the area in the 1780s.

Fool's Gold
As more and more Americans and Canadians became aware of the region, rumors spread about vast gold, copper, and oil deposits in the Glacier area. Prospectors rushed in. The clearing of trees for an oil-related development company drilling near Cameron Falls opened space for the community of Waterton Townsite.

National Park Status
On May 11, 1910, President Taft signed the bill creating Glacier National Park. Comprising 1,600 square miles, it was the United States' fourth-largest national park.

A Tourist Haven
Early tourists in Glacier generally saw the park on horseback, due to the lack of roads in the interior.

The towering Prince of Wales Hotel overlooking Waterton Lake was constructed in 1927, the end of the main hotel-building phase in the parks. Five years later, the Rotary Club members of Montana and Alberta convinced the United States and Canada to form the park, the world's first International Peace Park. The longest unfortified international border in the world now had a natural wonderland on both sides that was protected for the enjoyment of all.

The Parks Today
Today, Glacier and Waterton attract millions of visitors. Recognizing that Glacier and Waterton are not self-contained ecosystems, park managers work to protect the parks and help shape growth of surrounding communities.

The parks contain wonderful habitats for wildlife, but animals are blind to borders. This proves especially tragic for grizzly bears, which frequently get into trouble when they find new roads or summer homes in their once-isolated hunting or feeding grounds outside the parks.