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For the Municipality of Crowsnest Pass, please see Crowsnest Pass, Albertamarker

Crowsnest Pass (sometimes referred to as Crow's Nest Pass, in French passe du Nid-de-Corbeau) (elevation 1,358 m) is a high mountain pass across the Continental Divide of the Canadian Rockies on the Albertamarker/British Columbiamarker border.


The pass is located in southeast British Columbia and southwest Alberta, and is the southernmost rail and highway route through the Canadian Rockies and the lowest-elevation mountain pass in Canada south of the Yellowhead Passmarker (1,130 m); the other major passes, which are higher, being Kicking Horse Passmarker (1,640 m), Howse Passmarker (1,530 m) and Vermilion Passmarker (1,680 m).

Crowsnest Pass comprises a valley running east-west through Crowsnest Ridge. On the Alberta side, the Crowsnest River flows east from Crowsnest Lake, eventually draining into the Oldman River and ultimately reaching Hudson Baymarker via the Nelson Rivermarker. Summit Lake on the British Columbia side drains via three intermediary creeks into the Elk River, which feeds into the Kootenay River, and finally into the Columbia River to the Pacificmarker.


The Canadian Pacific Railway built a line from Lethbridgemarker, Albertamarker, to Nelson, British Columbiamarker, through the Crowsnest Pass, opening in 1897. This line was built to develop coal deposits in the Elk River valley and help to assert Canadian (and CPR) sovereignty in an area that U.S. railroads were beginning to build into. CPR sought and received construction funding from the federal government, subject to a freight subsidy arrangement for prairie farm exports which came to be called the "Crow's Nest Pass Agreement".

"The Crow Rate", as the subsidy agreement came to be referred to, was eventually extended from CPR's Crowsnest Pass railway line to apply to all railway lines in western Canada, regardless of corporate ownership or geography, creating artificially low freight rates for grain shipments through the Great Lakesmarker ports. The rate also correspondingly limited industrial growth in the western provinces as it was cheaper to produce items in eastern Canada and ship them west under the Crow Rate. This subsidy was finally abolished in 1995.

The Crowsnest Highway operates as Highway 3 in both provinces and runs through the pass parallel to the CPR line, as does an oil pipeline.

Natural resources

The Crowsnest Pass area on both sides of the provincial boundary is rich in coal deposits, which were quickly developed after completion of the rail line. All the mines on the Alberta side were closed by the end of the 20th century as cheaper and safer open-pit mines opened on the British Columbia side of the pass. Some logging and oil and gas exploitation also occurs in the area, and a sulphur plant has been in operation there for several years. Tourism based on the natural and historical resources of the area remains underdeveloped.


  • Crowsnest Pass is the richest archaeological zone in the Canadian Rockies. The oldest relics are stone tools found on a rock ridge outside Frank, Albertamarker, from the Clovis culture, 11,000 years bp. Other sites include chert quarries on the Livingstone ridge dating back to 1000 BC.
  • 1800: Members of David Thompson expedition enter the pass.
  • ca. 1850: Crow Indians dispersed from area by Blackfoot Confederacy.
  • 1860, 1873: Michael Phillips (Hudson's Bay Company) traverses pass, reports coal deposits.
  • 1881: first surveys by Canadian Pacific Railway.
  • 1897: CPR enters into farm export subsidy agreement for freight rates in exchange for financing of railway line between Lethbridge, Alberta, and Nelson, BC. Crow's Nest Pass Coal Company commences operations in British Columbia.
  • 1898: CPR opens the railway line, 10th siding (later Blairmore, Albertamarker) established. Settlement of Fernie, British Columbiamarker, established.
  • 1900: the Frank Mine opens and the new town of Frank, Albertamarker, is established. Other coal mines and towns spring up between 1900 and 1919.
  • 1902: explosion at Coal Creek mine kills 128 men.
  • 1903: the cataclysmic Frank Slidemarker occurs on the north slope of Turtle Mountain; 82 million tonnes of limestone crash down and partially bury the town of Frank, killing approximately 70 of the town's 600 residents.
  • 1904: Fernie, British Columbiamarker, incorporates.
  • 1908: forest fire destroys Fernie (pop: 6000), which soon rebuilds.
  • 1914: an explosion in the mine at Hillcrestmarker kills 189 men, Canada's worst mine disaster.
  • 1916–1923: Prohibition in Alberta; "rum-running" across the provincial boundary.
  • 1920: Train robbery and shootout at Bellevuemarker Cafe.
  • 1923: 'Emperor Pic’ and Florence Lossandro hanged for shooting a police constable; first woman hanged in Alberta.
  • 1932: Highway 3 built as a Great Depression project.
  • 1966: Communities of Michel, Natal, and Sparwood amalgamate into the District Municipality of Sparwood, British Columbiamarker.
  • 1979: Communities of Colemanmarker, Blairmoremarker, Bellevuemarker, Hillcrestmarker, and Frankmarker amalgamate to form the Municipality of Crowsnest Passmarker, Alberta.


Crowsnest and Its People, Crowsnest Pass Historical Society, 1979.

Crowsnest and Its People Millennium Edition, Crowsnest Pass Historical Society, 2000.

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