Peyto Lake Books

Bill Peyto

Ebenezer William "Bill" Peyto was born in Welling, Kent (now part of Greater London) on February 14th, 1869. He was the third eldest son in a family of nine. Augustus, his father, was a farm bailiff and Ellen, his mother, was a servant. The family name Peyto (pronounced Pea-toe) was changed from an earlier spelling, Peto.

Bill left England while still a teenager, arriving in Halifax in February, 1887. He soon headed west on the newly completed Canadian Pacific Railway disembarking at Golden, B.C. where he found work as a railway labourer.

Bill Peyto's picture on the entrance sign for Banff

Photo of Bill Peyto on the entrance sign for Banff.
Photo courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

In 1890, he briefly settled in the Montreal Valley area northwest of Cochrane. However the ranching life was not to his liking, and he returned to the mountains where his expertise and knowledge as a mountain guide, horse outfitter and packer soon became well known. He began guiding with Tom Wilson in 1893. Bill's collection of books enabled him to become self-educated on topics such as geology and palaeontology.

He crossed Bow Summit in 1894 and explored the Mistaya Valley including the Peyto Lake area (named in his honour). One of his early clients was Walter Wilcox. Wilcox's 1896 book described Bill as "efficient, daring, highly imaginative, an excellent man with horses and a good friend". Bill led a climbing party to Mount Assiniboine in 1895 but the attempt was unsuccessful. Six years later, he guided Sir James Outram and his party to Mount Assiniboine. While waiting for Outram and the others to successfully climb the mountain, Bill spent the time exploring the lower slopes.

Peyto cabin at museum of Canadian Rockies

Bill Peyto's cabin located on the grounds of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff.

Plaque on the Bill Peyto cabin

Sign on Bill Peyto's cabin in Banff.

In 1899, Bill enlisted for service in the Boer War, serving in Lord Strathcona's Horse Regiment. After returning from South Africa, he married Emily Wood in Banff in 1902. When Emily died in 1906, their son Robert was sent to live with a cousin in Armstrong, B.C. For a time after Emily's death, Bill worked on his mining and trapping interests in the Simpson Pass area.

By 1913, he was working as one of the first park wardens in Banff National Park patrolling the Healy Creek area. This warden duty was soon interrupted as he enlisted for World War I with the Twelfth Mounted Regiment and Machine Gun Brigade serving in Belgium and France. At the battle of Ypres in 1916, he was wounded in the right leg. When he finished a long convalescence in England, Bill returned to the Banff area and resumed his duties as a warden.

Bill Peyto Banner at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Banner of Bill Peyto at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

Bill continued to be interested in prospecting, and in 1917 he staked a claim near Talc Lake in Kootenay National Park. He was unsuccessful in his attempts to develop this site, and ten years later he sold the claim to the National Talc Company.

In 1921, Bill married Ethel Wells, a sister-in-law of Banff photographer George Noble. After retiring from the warden service in 1936, Bill spent the next few years caring for Ethel until she died in 1940. Bill died at the Colonel Belcher Hospital in Calgary in 1943.

Cabin at Simpson summit

Bill Peyto at Simpson summit cabin (1913).
V573 NA66-262. Courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

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