We address two problems of Cordilleran geology in this study using U–Pb dating of single detrital zircon grains from metasedimentary rocks: the provenance of the Windermere Supergroup, and the age and correlation of metasedimentary rocks within the Shuswap Complex that are at high metamorphic grade. Because some of these rocks are clearly of North American affinity, the ages of zircons provide indirect constraints on the age and distribution of continental basement from which the zircons were derived.A consistent pattern emerges from ages of about 50 grains from six rocks. Nearly all samples analyzed (48–53°N) are characterized by a bimodal distribution of zircon ages of 1.65–2.16 Ga and > 2.5 Ga, with a distinct lack of ages between 2.1 and 2.5 Ga. Exceptions to this pattern are young zircons from two samples, from Valhalla and Grand Forks – Kettle complexes of southeastern British Columbia, that have grains 1435 ± 35 and 650 ± 15 Ma, respectively. These younger grains are inferred to have been derived from magmatic rocks, and they have no obvious source in either the Canadian Shield or the Alberta subsurface basement to the east. The Early Proterozoic and Archean ages of detrital zircons resemble those of dated basement rocks beneath the Alberta Basin as well as basement exposed within the Cordilleran hinterland (gneisses of Thor–Odin, Frenchman Cap, and Malton regions). However, 2.1–2.4 Ga rocks that are extensive in the subsurface of northern Alberta are not represented in the inventory of detrital zircon ages presented in this paper.This pattern suggests that much of the Cordilleran basement between these latitudes is underlain by Archean crust of the Hearne–Wyoming provinces that may be mantled to the west by an orogenic–magmatic belt of Early Proterozoic (1.7–1.9 Ga) age which may largely have been parallel to the present Cordilleran orogen.