The jagged peaks and u-shaped valleys in Kananaskis Country are 12,000 year-old reminders of the last ice age. They were revealed as kilometre-thick, million-year old glaciers melted to mere remnants.
The actual mountains were formed over the course of 200 million years. Tectonic plates forced layers of rock to pile, break, and fold into mountains. The mountains which resulted from this pressure were originally much taller than today's post-glacier peaks.
The rock itself is mainly limestone made from layers of fossilized sea creatures. These creatures lived hundreds of millions of years ago in the inland sea that covered southern Alberta. Evidence of this is seen in ancient coral reefs, oyster beds and shark teeth in Kananaskis Country.
Archaeological evidence of humans in Kananaskis Country goes back over 8000 years. The Stoney-Nakoda, Siksika, Blood, and Kootenai First Nations all have deep connection to this land.
Captain John Palliser chose the name Kananaskis 150 years ago on his expedition through the area.
The name comes from the Cree "Kin-e-a-kis" - the name of a warrior who survived an axe blow to the head.
Kananaskis Country - An Experiment that Worked
As early as 1902, parts of Kananaskis Country were included in the Rocky Mountain National Park (now Banff National Park). This land was removed in 1911. It was eventually turned over to the Government of Alberta in 1930.
In 1972, the Alberta Wilderness Association proposed a wilderness area west of Calgary in the Elbow, Sheep and Kananaskis Valleys.
That same year, the Environment Conservation Authority identified a need to set aside this area to protect watershed and to provide resource development, tourism and recreation opportunities.
Banff-Cochrane MLA Clarence Copithorne, a rancher in the Jumpingpound area, recognized the growing pressure on the eastern slopes from Calgarians wishing to escape the city in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As Minister of Highways, Copithorne planned to upgrade the road into the Kananaskis Valley to divert people away from ranchlands.
Calgary architect and environmentalist Bill Milne challenged the government to consult the public about the highway upgrade. Through Mr. Milne, the Government of Alberta received over 48,000 responses to a survey about the future of the eastern slopes. The majority supported creating a large protected area.
Many say Mr. Milne and Minister Copithorne convinced former Premier Peter Lougheed to create Kananaskis Country with a single helicopter flight over the Kananaskis Lakes. It can easily be argued that simply seeing the magnificent ranges and valleys, the endless forests and rushing waters was all the convincing the Premier needed…