The Canadian Pacific Railroad had constructed Glacier House in 1886 on their mainline to accommodate the public who wished to stay in the fabulous mountain setting at the base of the Illecillewaet Glacier near Rogers Pass. Built on the model of a Swiss chalet, it opened as a traveller’s dining room, then expanded into a full hotel.
It is widely regarded as the birthplace of Canadian Mountaineering. In 1899 the CPR brought Swiss guides to the hotel to lead guests to the surrounding summits. Glacier House continued to operate until 1925 losing its business to the Banff Springs Hotel and the Chateau Lake Louise, as well as the retreat of the Illecillewaet Glacier. In the 1880s, the glacier was only a 20 minute hike from Glacier House. In 125 years, the glacier has eroded considerably and is now just at the crest of the mountain.
The Glacier House was a wooden structure having a reception area, dining room, wine cellar and six bedrooms when it was first built. It had a staff of a manager and ten employees, opened on January 18, 1887 and served 708 guests that year. An agreement with the House provided for the CPR to provide free transportation of supplies while the house was to be “of a strictly first-class hotel dining station in the very best style” Meals were 75 cents and rooms, $1 a night.
In 1888 there were 1020 guests and a thirty room annex was built to accommodate the growing business. By 1903 facilities included a billiard hall, bowling alley, croquet lawn, tennis court, an observatory with a telescope and a dark room. Electricity was supplied by a small hydro generator. A 54 room wing was added in 1906 bringing the total to 90 rooms by which time rates were $3.50 per day. By 1912 there were 5419 guests.
After a massive avalanche on March 10, 1910 that killed 58, the CPR admitted defeat to the weather conditions of Rogers Pass and began in 1913 to build a tunnel underneath Mount Carroll (Macdonald) which was called the Connaught Tunnel. This diversion of the railway’s main passenger service to the Tunnel left it considerably removed from the beaten track, and this resort too ceased to operate. It was torn down in 1929, although in the 1990s a trail still led to the site, leaving only the foundations and lingering memories of past glories.
Glacier House is the focal point for ten hiking trails in Glacier National Park, British Columbia. These ten backcountry trails that lead out of the Illecillewaet Campground date from the early days of railway tourism and still follow the routes laid out by the original Swiss Guides of Glacier House.