There may not be a more easily recognized or striking peak between Banff and Lake Louise, Alta., than Castle Mountain. With its steep walls and a tall south tower, the 11-kilometre-long mountain is truly fortress-like. But the story behind its name is just as dramatic.
Nearly 90 years after Scottish geologist James Hector named it Castle Mountain, Prime Minister Mackenzie King incited uproar when he — suddenly and without warning — gave it a new name.
The day before U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, visited Canada (January 9, 1946) after the end of the Second World War, the prime minister ordered the Geographical Board of Canada to officially change Castle Mountain to “Mount Eisenhower.”
As place names expert Alan Rayburn writes in Naming Canada: Stories of place names from Canadian Geographic, “Apparently the prime minister had learned that the general had been presented with a castle in Scotland.”
A story in the February 1946 issue of Canadian Geographical Journal is a celebratory snapshot of that moment [Read it here]. The story features the full text of Eisenhower’s address to the Canadian Club, reproductions of the prime minister’s letters affirming the name change, and a history of and ode to the mountain itself.
As author Ralph W. Edwards writes [or rather: gushes like a mountain creek in spring], “The impression received by the beholder at first sight of this mighty mountain … is that it is not a work of nature but a gigantic castellated rampart erected by Titans in past eons to secure for themselves forever undisputed dominion over the broad valleys spreading out in all directions from its impregnable foundations.”
What this account does not relay is the utter surprise of Alberta’s provincial government, which was not informed of the switch until after the fact. So surprised was it, in fact, that it immediately went about creating its own geographical names board to help discourage future arbitrary renamings of its famous features.
Albertans (but hardly just Albertans) also did not share Mackenzie King’s enthusiasm. Many objected to the change, particularly because the mountain had been redubbed for a foreigner, no matter how glorious.
Decades of protest followed, but it wasn’t until 1979, under Joe Clark’s short Progressive Conservative government, that Mount Eisenhower was re-renamed Castle Mountain. At that point, Gen. Eisenhower himself had been dead for 10 years, but even so, the mountain’s prominent eastern elevation retained the name of Eisenhower Peak.