Monday, 24 March 2014




The Whyte Museum sign in Banff, Alberta (source)

This week is Museum Week! Well, every week is museum week for us, but whatever. Many museums are hosting special events or are reaching out on social media. For Museum Monday I thought it might be nice to highlight a Canadian museum that is perhaps less well known than other larger Canadian institutions.

The Whyte Museum in Banff, Alberta (source)

I've chosen to show you the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. I suspect quite a few of you will know it because Banff is such a well known city. It's one of my favorite museums and it deals not only with history in the Rockies but also the cultural life of the mountains and the art that is inspired by it. The museum's mission statement reads:

"The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies welcomes those who are drawn to the power and inspiration of these mountains. We are the gateway for experiencing and enjoying its art, culture and history in order to inspire and cultivate knowledge and the exchange of ideas."

Banff Avenue looking North, 1887-1888 (source)

Now, I should explain my love for the Whyte Museum by emphasizing my love for the Rockies; the mountains are my favorite place to be and I think the environment fosters a culture that is slightly different than anywhere else. The Whyte Museum, perhaps quite obviously so, is the institution it is  because of the place it grew out of, the collections it holds and the space in which it currently resides.

Group of eight Swiss Guides in rock quarry, 1900-192- (source)

My favorite section of the exhibition space is the one on Swiss alpine guides (I can't recall if this was part of the permanent collection or not). When the Canadian Pacific Railway decided to expand tourism in Western Canada, and the Rocky mountains specifically, they landed on the idea of mountaineering. Mountaineering had become extremely popular in Europe since the mid-19th century. This provided the federal government with a huge possible source of tourist income.

Following a fatal accident in 1896 there was a realization that professional experience was required if mountaineering was to be successful. Because there weren't any individuals in Canada who were experienced enough, Swiss alpine guides were brought in. The first was Peter Sarbach, hired by the American Appalachian Mountain Club. His successes were noted by the CPR and they hired Christian Haesler Sr. and Eduard Feuz Sr. in 1899. There are many photographs of guides in the Whyte Museum's collection of the two, and many of Haesler and Feuz's sons. You can search the photograph collection, though there are not individual photograph pages and the information is limited. If you are interested in this topic, The Golden Age: The Story of Swiss Mountain Guides in Canada is quite interesting, if brief.

Climbers resting, possibly Edward Feuz and Rudolph Aemmer circa, 1903-1942 (source)

I have heard the museum's archival holdings are pretty impressive. A classmate of mine at the University of Alberta conducted quite a bit of research about the CPR and tourism in Western Canada there. While some of the photographs in the collection have been digitized, the archives have not, so an in person visit is necessary for research.

Canadian Pacific Railroad Hotel and Mount Stephen, in Field, British Columbia circa 1908 (source)

Some of their current and upcoming exhibitions look really interesting, like Fury: Portraits of a Turbulent World. This is an exhibition of Stephen Hutchings' work, which is "a contemporary reflection on landscape painting and a metaphoric connection to the hostilities and turbulence of society. As the frequency of human violence and nature’s super-storms increase, our awe and fear at their unpredictability attunes us to our own vulnerability."

Through the Lens is an interesting collaboration between the museum and students from Banff Community High School, Canmore Collegiate High School and Morley Community School. The project is a four-month extracurricular photography program for students and has been going on for 17 years. The idea is to allow students to explore photography and the Rockies.

The museum holds such an interesting collection, at least to me, and they have the opportunity to express some interesting views about life in the Rocky mountains. I'll leave you now and browse the photography collection for another couple of hours while I avoid the mountain of homework (get it, get it) that awaits my attention. I should note that the majority of the photographs in this post were sourced from the Whyte Museum's collection.

Early mountaineers circa 1900-1920 (source)


  1. What a great way to start the week ! Small museums and wonderful places (see also the blog post on this topic in NY Times and I am glad to see that this week is dedicated to such cultural spaces! I hope that all those who read the blog this week will think of small museums they have visited and post the links and a brief note in the comment area. It would be great to hear about as many such museums as one week!

  2. Great post! I would definitely love to visit this museum one day. It would be a welcome escape from my extremely flat, endlessly sprawling homeland of Saskatchewan. While Canada is generally known for its Rockies, I'm sure many people (myself included) are not as familiar with the actual history of the mountains and the communities of people who lived and worked in the area. I always think of the Rockies as a natural wonder and tend to forget that they encompass living communities as well.
    Also, super excited about the "Fury: Portraits of a Turbulent World" exhibition. I'm sure it will have some amazing imagery.