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Mountain Legends

Aug. 17, 2016
By Naomi Witherick

Exhibitions and gift shop books at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies tell the stories of Banff’s historical figures. From the early explorers in the late 1800s to the people who established the towns’ businesses and ski hills, uncover the legacy of those who made Banff what it is today.

3 books web

A collection of stories in the museum gift shop. Photo courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

Mary Schäffer

Start with Mary Schäffer. This Philadelphia-born explorer, artist and photographer was the first non-Aboriginal woman to see much of today’s Banff and Jasper National Parks. Visiting the Canadian Rockies for the first time in 1988, she worked with her husband Dr. Charles Schäffer to identify and document flora.

When Charles died in 1903, Mary’s expeditions to the mountains continued. She worked through her grief to illustrate and publish her husband’s findings and developed an insatiable taste for adventure in the process

Over the next three summers she ventured into remote valleys and untouched wilderness with guides Tom Wilson and Billy Warren, documenting what she discovered on the way. In 1912, she married Billy Warren and settled in a home in Banff, now owned by the Whyte Museum.

Find her manuscripts, illustrations and photographs in A Hunter of Peace in the museum’s gift shop and a collection of her artifacts in the Schäffer Collection exhibition.

Whyte Museum, Banff

Historic camera in the Vaux Collection. Photo courtesy of the Whyte Museum.

The Vaux Family

Scientists George Jr., Mary, and William Vaux, also from Philadelphia, began their expeditions to the Canadian Rockies in the late 1800s. Drawn by an interest in the mountains’ glaciers, the siblings studied glacier recession and captured some of the earliest images of the Crowfoot, Bow, Peyto and Illecillewaet glaciers.

A century later, Henry Vaux Jr. re-photographed the glaciers from the same angle as his grandfather and great aunt and uncle, continuing their study of glacier reduction. The family’s photographs, camera equipment and other items are on display in the museum’s Vaux Collection.

Whyte museum, Banff

The Whyte family home is part of a broad collection of heritage homes.

The Whyte/White family

From local ski resorts to the public library, commercial properties and recreational buildings (and, of course, the Whyte Museum itself) the Whyte family’s legacy is imprinted across Banff.

Dave and Annie Whyte arrived in the town in 1886, where they set up a dry goods store and had sons Cliff and Peter. Out of his love for skiing, Cliff joined other Banff locals to build the first cabin at Mount Norqauy in 1928 and was involved in the construction and running of Skoki Lodge and Temple Lodge.

Peter and his wife Catharine founded what is today the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and Catharine donated funds to the Banff Public Library, Banff Recreation Centre and the Margaret Greenham Theatre at the Banff Centre. The Dave White Block on Banff Avenue, built in 1913, is the town’s oldest commercial property.

Uncover the family’s story in Mountain Romantics, which includes 250 photographs, 32 paintings and a family tree. The museum also showcases Peter and Catharine’s artwork and even the family’s cabin in the Heritage Homes collection.

See more Banff museums and galleries.

>> For more Canadian Rockies activities, shops, restaurants and entertainment, read our digital magazine.

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