International Mountain Day 2017 - Legacy in Ice & Time

V653/NG-596, Vaux family fonds,
Ice forefoot of Illecillewaet Glacier, 8/17/99.

Happy International Mountain Day! This year’s theme from the United Nations is “Mountains Under Pressure: Climate, Hunger and Migration”. We have chosen to focus on the issue of Climate and will be sharing with you the story of the Vaux family who studied glaciers right here in the Canadian Rockies at the turn of the 20th century. 

The Vaux family of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were photographers, mountaineers and scientists. Mary M. Vaux (1860-1940), George Vaux Jr. (1863-1927), and William S. Vaux Jr. (1872-1908), were the children of George Vaux (VIII) of Philadelphia. They were all involved in photography in the early 1880s and were members of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia. All three were taking photographs when the family made its first trip west in 1885. The first Vaux family photographs of the Canadian mountain west were made in 1887 during a summer trip along the Canadian Pacific Railway to Glacier House in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia.

V653/NA-783, Vaux family fonds, Rockies -- [Aug.24, 1904] --
[Mary M. Vaux and George Vaux Jr. with camera on Mount Fairview]
V653/NA-30, Vaux family fonds, Dining car "Buckingham" CPR, [1894]

The family made frequent visits to the Selkirk and Rocky Mountains over the next two decades to study the Illecillewaet and other glaciers, photograph, paint and climb. George's and Mary's photographic work centered on the mountain landscape, while William's concentrated upon the movement and physical features of glaciers. William Vaux died in 1908 and George did not return to the Canadian mountains after 1911; however, Mary Vaux Walcott returned to the region virtually every summer for over forty years. 

V653/NA-838, Vaux family fonds, [1907?] --
[Unidentified man, Mary J. Vaux and George Vaux Jr. near unidentified glacier]

The Vaux’s first trip to Glacier House Hotel and the Great Glacier (the Illecillewaet) in July 1887 was the beginning of their lifelong study of glaciers in Canada. A Quaker family from Philadelphia, it was not surprising that they took to a scientific study of glaciers.

“Advantaged, well-educated Quakers, they were the epitome of the well-rounded Victorian; committed, inquisitive, and dedicated to the advancement of man’s understanding and appreciation of nature.” 
Excerpt from Edward Cavell’s book Legacy in Ice: The Vaux Family and the Canadian Alps, (p.6)

V653/NA-314, Vaux family fonds, Victoria Galcier, 1900.
V653/NA-511, Vaux family fonds, Paradise Valley, 1906.

George and William Vaux Jr. delivered many papers, monographs and pamphlets to scientific organizations like the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia as well as The Engineers’ Club of Philadelphia. In these pamphlets, like the ones held in our Archives & Library, William and George present the findings of their most recent trips using raw data such as measurements of recession, as well as maps, photographs, and snow/rainfall measurements. 

03.4/V46s Pam - Pamphlet from Whyte Museum Archives & Library
03.4/V46ob Pam - Map from 1906 pamphlet
in Whyte Museum Archives & Library

In one pamphlet the Vaux’s explained how they marked a large block of limestone with “VX ‘99”, from which the next year they could measure the movement of the glacier tongue.

V653/NG-404, Vaux family fonds, Edge of ice on Illecellewaet Glacier, 1887.

Other pamphlets produced by George Vaux Jr. and Mary Vaux like “The Glaciers of the Canadian Rockies and Selkirks” from 1914 are pamphlets geared more towards the general public providing basic information about what glaciers are and how they are formed. They even provide handy definitions for glaciological terms such as tongues, crevasses, and seracs. 

03.4/V46g, The Glaciers of the Canadian Rockies and Selkirks, 1914,
from the Whyte Museum Archives & Library.

Mary M. Vaux was the eldest of the Vaux siblings. She never received post-secondary education and took over managing her father’s house when her mother Sarah died after Mary graduated from school. Of her entire family Mary spent the most amount of time in the mountains, returning virtually every summer for 40 years. While in the mountains Mary was recognized as the first woman in the Yoho Valley, the first over 10,000 feet (on Mount Stephen), and the first over Abbot Pass in Lake Louise. Mary helped with the glacial studies and ended up taking over the project completely after 1911. Mary was also a skilled botanical painter, having her paintings published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1925.

V653/NA-182, Vaux family fonds,
Mary M. Vaux and Swiss guide [1900?]
V653/PS-164, Vaux family fonds,
Anemone des prairies / Mary M. Vaux
Pasque flower or prairie crocus

Legacy in Time

After reading all about the Vaux’s glacier studies back at the turn of the 20th century you might be wondering what we’re doing now to study glaciers and the mountain landscape. The answer is surprisingly similar. 

The Mountain Legacy Project began in 1996 when Dr. Eric Higgs (then at U of A, now at U Vic) and Dr. Jeanine Rhemtulla (then a grad student at U of A, now faculty at UBC) began re-taking photographs of images from 1915 of Morrison Bridgland’s Jasper park survey. They would then compare the archival photos with the modern ones and note the differences in the mountain landscape. To date, over 7000 historical photographs have been ‘repeated’. You can explore them at and read more about the project in the ACC’s blog at                                                     

Back in 2015, the Whyte Museum put on an exhibition entitled: Legacy in Time: Rephotography by Henry Vaux Jr. Beginning in 1997 and continuing until 2013, Henry Vaux Jr. rephotographed scenes that his grandfather, great-aunt and great-uncle had captured on glass plate negatives a century before. Carrying copies of those historic photographs, Henry would spend numerous days searching out the exact same locations and then, with his medium format camera and tripod, he would capture the same view, one hundred years later. The Vaux family, three generations of mountain photographers in the Canadian west, enabled us to see the impact of climate change on these grand, iconic mountains.
V653/NA80-1354, Vaux family fonds,
Illecillewaet Glacier from Photographer's Rock, 1902.
Illecillewaet Glacier from Photographer's Rock
Henry Vaux Jr., 2002.


Postingan populer dari blog ini

SkiBig3: How Did We Get Here? - Cliff White and the Mighty Quay

Mary's Flowers: A Selection of Flora from the Canadian Rocky Mountains

Shop Features: Coffee Table Books