The park was established in 1938. It is named for the 15th Governor General of Canada, John Buchan, who bore the title Baron Tweedsmuir of Elsfield (and enjoyed a successful side career as a writer of thrillers, such as The Thirty Nine Steps). The Governor General travelled extensively by float aircraft and horseback in the park in August of 1937, and he and his party were greatly impressed by its magnificence. In a booklet issued to commemorate his visit he stated in the foreword:
"I have now travelled over most of Canada and have seen many wonderful things, but I have seen nothing more beautiful and more wonderful than the great park which British Columbia has done me the honour to call by my name."
Alexander Mackenzie travelled through the area of the park on his epic journey to the Pacific Ocean in 1793. Mackenzie was the first white man to view the western seas from the shores of northwest America, ahead of the more widely known Lewis and Clark expedition by more than 12 years. Mackenzie and his party trekked overland from the Fraser River, across the Interior Plateau, through the Rainbow Mountains and down Burnt Bridge Creek.
Where the creek enters the Bella Coola River, they rested at a community they dubbed “Friendly Village” because of the hospitality of its Nuxalk inhabitants. These people guided Mackenzie and his men down the river into Dean Channel. A dispute between the Nuxalk and the coastal Heiltsuk people prevented them from reaching the open sea, but Mackenzie was satisfied that his mission was complete. In his journals he wrote:
“I now mixed up some vermilion in melted grease, and inscribed in large characters on the face of the rock on which we slept last night, this brief memorial, Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand, seven hundred and ninety-three."
Mackenzie's rock, on the north shore of Dean Channel, is marked with a cairn and preserved in Sir Alexander Mackenzie Park.
Lonesome Lake, in the southeast part of the park, has become well-known through the publication of books and stories about Ralph Edwards, who settled at the lake not long after the turn of the century and many years before the park was created. The struggle of Edwards and his family to wrest a homestead from this harsh wilderness has made their story a classic of Canadian pioneering spirit.
The park and surrounding areas have been used by the Nuxalk and Carrier First Nations for thousands of years. Routes known as “grease trails” enabled the interior peoples to trade furs and obsidian for marine products such as eulachon grease. The Nuxalk people of the Bella Coola valley depended on the abundance of salmon in the rivers for their livelihood. Today, descendants of these earliest inhabitants catch and process fish from the same rivers in much the same way as did their ancestors. If you come across any First Nations heritage sites, do not disturb them or remove artifacts.
Signs showing information about the Nuxalk and Ulkatcho First Nations, are proudly displayed in Tweedsmuir Park and were developed collaboratively between Nuxalk and BC Parks.
You can view these signs online:
The topography of the area is extremely varied. East of the park near Anahim Lake, the Interior Plateau abruptly gives way, at an elevation of about 1,350 metres, to peaks of the Rainbow Range. The range, Tsitsutl, meaning 'painted mountains' in the local dialect, is an enormous dome of eroded lava and fragmented rock that presents to the viewer an astonishing spectrum of reds, oranges, yellows and lavenders.
Contrasting with the vivid colouration and gentler slopes of the Rainbow Range are the higher and more rugged Coast Mountains that mark the western extremity of the park. Vast glaciers sculptured these granite giants, leaving behind serrated peaks still under the erosive attack of alpine ice. Tzeetsaytsul Peak - so named by the local Indigenous people for the rumble and boom of its glacier - and its neighbour, Thunder Mountain, are dominant features of the park’s western boundary.
Monarch Mountain, in the southwest corner of the park, is, at 3,533 metres, the highest mountain in the area. Further evidence of the glacial activity of the past along the park’s west side are the deep valleys of the Bella Coola and Atnarko Rivers and ocean fjords like Dean Channel.
The climate and topography influence the type and distribution of vegetation, with four zones being easily identifiable. Commencing at the coast and extending inland along the Talchako and Dean Rivers is a coastal hemlock forest that thrives in this moist area. Farther into the park the climate is drier since much precipitation has been shed by the time Pacific air masses have passed through the mountains.
At lower levels and on the plateau, forest cover is a combination of Douglas-fir and trembling aspen or lodgepole pine interspersed with natural meadows. High on the mountainsides is dense Englemann spruce and sub-alpine fir growth that gives way above 1,650 metres to treeless alpine tundra.
Flowers, trees and shrubs are part of the park’s natural heritage, please don’t damage or remove them.
Most large mammals are wide ranging and difficult for the casual visitor to spot. The alpine and grass meadows north of Highway 20 are the habitat of grizzly bears, black bears, mountain goats, caribou and wolves and the summer range of moose and mule deer. In the summer and into the late fall grizzly bears utilize the Atnarko valley in pursuit of salmon. Cougar and many other smaller mammals also inhabit the park. There is also a great variety of bird life in the park, including the magnificent trumpeter swans that winter at Lonesome Lake.
The park is also known for its coastal cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, resident and sea-run Dolly Varden, and runs of chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pink salmon.