“I shall travel on the cowcatcher
from summit to sea!”
– Lady Agnes Macdonald
Lady Agnes Macdonald had probably one of the most unique adventures in rail travel. It all happened during a trip west where Lady Agnes and her husband Sir John A. Macdonald took a train over the newly completed Canadian Pacific Railway. Out the windows of their private car they saw for the first time the country Sir John A. had helped to create. It was a trip to remember that included mountain vistas, grand cheering processions and Indian powwows.
When the train arrived at Lake Louise, Lady Agnes announced her intension to ride to the west coast on the cowcatcher at the front of the engine. Despite concerns for her safety by the railway superintendent and her husband -who asked her if she could hold on, Lady Agnes persisted in her plans. Converting an empty candle box they found lying near the track and mounting it to the cowcatcher, she had the ultimate front row seat. The train first climbed to the Kicking Horse Pass using it to cross the Continental Divide.
Enjoying the ride, Lady Agnes triumphantly announced “quite lovely; I shall travel on the cowcatcher from summit to sea!” As the train rushed down the Kicking Horse Pass she beheld some magnificent sights from her position on the cowcatcher.
Lady Agnes described her experience as “Breathless – almost awestricken – but with a wild triumph in my heart, I look from farthest mountain peak, lifted high before me, to the shining pebbles at my feet!” The train crossed the valley of the Kicking Horse River and continued on into the Selkirk Mountains. Lady Agnes indeed rode the cowcatcher on to the west coast becoming the first person known to do that.
Lady MacDonald later wrote a detailed account of her extraordinary trip in an article entitled, “By Car and Cow Catcher” in Murray’s Magazine (1887). It encouraged other women travelers to experience it for themselves. Riding the cowcatcher quickly became a fashionable activity.
A mountain bearing her name (Mount Lady Macdonald) is located near where the Canadian Pacific Railway as it passes through Canmore, Alberta.