2018 Mountain Guides Ball Patron: Bernadette McDonald


Editor’s Note - Each year at the Mountain Guides Ball, the ACC and ACMG name a Patron who is recognized and honoured for their contributions to our mountain community. Recent Patrons include: Peter Amann, Chic Scott, Helen Sovdat and Mike & Heather Mortimer. This year we honour Bernadette McDonald, accomplished author and pivotal contributor to the Banff Centre and its Mountain Film & Book Festival.

For more on Bernadette McDonald, you can pick up the 2018 Summit Series book (available on our online store after the 2018 Mountain Guides Ball).

Early musical inclination

Bernadette grew up in the farmlands of Biggar Saskatchewan, focusing her early years on music - the history, theory and practice. Her love for music brought her to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, where she took advantage of the school’s piano and choral programs.

She graduated in 1972, moving to Ontario to teach music theory at Western, however her earlier exposure to the Rockies would eventually bring her back.

Back in the Rockies, she would spend her time with her partner Alan while teaching and performing music at the Banff Centre, which eventually led to her involvement in mountain culture.

Photo: John Coefield, 2012.

A new leaf at the BMFF

While working at the Banff Centre, Bernadette found herself increasingly involved with the Banff Mountain Film Festival, leading to her Festival Director position in 1988, along with the creation of the Banff World Tour, Banff Mountain Book Festival and many other programs which would go on to establish the Banff Centre as a world-class establishment for mountain film, writing, photography and discussion.

In 2006 Bernadette retired from her duties at the Banff Centre to focus on writing. The year after, she would be honoured with the Summit of Excellence Award.

Bernadette on literature

While organizing the 25th anniversary of the Banff festival Bernadette got a taste for writing when she worked on Voices From the Summit: The World’s Great Mountaineers on the Future of Climbing with John Amatt. Soon after, she was asked to write a book on Elizabeth Hawley, most notable for living in Kathmandu for a half-century documenting climbs, which she accepted and titled I’ll Call You in Kathmandu. Bernadette enjoyed the writing process enough that soon after she authored two more biographies - on Charles Houston (Brotherhood of the Rope) and Tomaz Humar (Tomaz Humar).

Bernadette’s writing would then extend to Poland after spending some time help to organize a climbers’ film festival in Katowice. There she met Poland’s top climbers and immersed herself in lore and stories - the product of that experience would become her multi-award winning book Freedom Climbers.

Following Freedom Climbers, Bernadette wrote Alpine Warriors, highlighting the Slovenian climbing community, and then The Art of Freedom, a biography on the iconic and ultra-reclusive Voytek Kurtyka.

2018 MGB and Summit Bid

Bernadette will be giving a presentation this year at the Mountain Guides Ball, not about Voytek or subjects from her previous books, but about herself! Additionally, if you plan on attending the Ball, books she has authored and donated will be available to view and bid on.

Each year the ACC publishes a booklet to honour our MGB Patron; we call this our Summit Series. Bernadette’s book will be handed out to all attendees at the event and will be available online afterwards for those wishing to learn more about Bernadette.