Yellowhead Highway pt. 1 – Who is ‘Tay John?’

For those who live in the Western Provinces, the Yellowhead Highway is a vital link between British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Acting as a northern alternative to the Trans-Canada Highway, the Yellowhead provides a 2960 km route from Haida Gwaii to Winnipeg. So, where does the name Yellowhead come from?

The highway was named after the Yellowhead Pass, located in the Canadian Rockies near Jasper, AB and Tête Jaune Cache, B.C. The pass was named after an Iroquois Métis fur trapper and explorer who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest Company during the 18th and 19th centuries. He was also known to the First Nations people as Pierre Bostonais, as a probable reference to his mixed American heritage. Pierre Bostonais was given the nickname Tête Jaune (lit. “Yellow Head”) by French fur traders, referring to the blond streaks in his hair.

Illustration of Tête Jaune

Tête Jaune led a company of Hudson’s Bay workers through the very pass that would later bear his name during December of 1819. Here he encountered the Secwepemc people and established a cache on the grand fork of the Fraser River, in which the village of Tête Jaune Cache was named after him in 1902. Tragically during 1828, Tête Jaune and his family were killed by the Dunneza tribe in retaliation for encroaching into their territory near the headwaters of the Smoky River.

Though Tête Jaune was only one of many explorers travelling through Western Canada, The Yellowhead Highway seems to be a fitting moniker for the trails that exemplified the reach of the fur trading companies which helped shape the economy and culture of the west.