The Burgess Shale

The Burgess Shale Protected by Parks Canada

There is another reason we can thank the “iron horse” (the steam locomotive) for the Burgess Shale fossils. Today, the Burgess Shale (including the Mount Stephen Trilobite Beds) is located within Yoho National Park, under the protection of Parks Canada and closed off from casual visitors and fossil-hunters. This helps ensure the fossils are preserved for scientific research while remaining accessible to the public through special guided hikes (the area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1980).

But if it had not been for the railway, there might not have been any national parks in this area. The CPR‘s focus on tourism and recognition of the huge economic potential of the region gave the company a strong incentive to keep the scenery pristine. As the CPR‘s general manager, William Van Horne said, “Since we can’t export the scenery, we’ll have to import the tourists.”

Souvenir postcard of Chalet at Emerald Lake sent by professor A. P. Coleman, one of the world's foremost glacial geologists who became first Director of the Royal Ontario Museum of Geology in 1913.
Souvenir postcard of Chalet at Emerald Lake sent by professor A. P. Coleman, one of the world's foremost glacial geologists who became first Director of the Royal Ontario Museum of Geology in 1913.
© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE ROCKIES

The economic importance of the tourist trade led the CPR to encourage the federal government to set aside huge swaths of the Rockies as reserves or national parks. This included the Mount Stephen reserve in 1886 – which eventually became Yoho National Park in 1901.