Mountain treasures fill Whyte Museum library

 

Editor's note: Beginning in 2016, Meghan Walsh — an intern at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies — was tasked with the grand project of ensuring that everything in the newly-donated Alpine Club of Canada Collection at the museum is organized and in good condition so that members and researchers can take full advantage. Here's Meghan's account of her experience getting up close and personal with the collection. All photos by Meghan Walsh.


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As an intern at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, I’ve been working with The Alpine Club of Canada’s Library collection. And one thing I’ve learned is the strength of the ACC Library lies in its diversity.

The ACC’s collection is a truly amazing combination of the old and the new. Mountaineering history buffs can find classics such as The Canadian Rockies: New and Old Trails by A.P. Coleman, while climbers can discover guidebooks from all over the world, including The Munros: A Walkhighlands Guide by Paul and Helen Webster. Those looking for inspiration can read about the amazing lives and adventures of Sir Edmund Hillary and Barry Blanchard. The environmentally conscious reader can peruse books on wildlife conservation, mountain flora, and the changing state of glaciers. There are even fiction books with short stories and poetry featuring the works of writers who have been inspired by mountain landscapes.

My good fortune of working at the Whyte Museum began as an intern in the collections department as the culminating semester of my post-graduate diploma in Museum Management and Curatorship from Ontario’s Fleming College. Ever since completing that initial internship in August 2015, I had been waiting for an opportunity to return to the Whyte and the beautiful Rocky Mountains. In the Fall of 2016 that opportunity presented itself through the Young Canada Works Building Careers in Heritage internship, and I began working in the Library with the ACC collection.

Upon hearing the details of the project I was immediately excited. Working at the Whyte Museum, reading and researching books and periodicals on mountaineering, and living in Banff—could it get any better? The position is basically a trifecta of my interests: museums, books and mountains. I also get to utilize my skills that I acquired from my post-graduate work in collections and information management, and in social media marketing.

 Highlights from the Shelfie Series: "The Glaciers of the Alps and Mountaineering in 1861" by John Tyndall. Published in 1906, the book recounts the explorations of Tyndall into the Alps, fusing science and 'literary beauty' in his vivid descriptions. In addition, this particular copy was graced with a surprise entry of a passage from John Ruskin's 'Sesame & Lilies'. The beautifully penned passage questions human instinct using a mountain guide as an analogy: "You, who have been among the hills, knows how the bad guide chatters and gesticulates, and it is 'put your foot here', and 'mind how you balance yourself there', but the good guide walks on quietly without a word, only with his eyes on you when need is, and his arm like an iron bar if need be."

Highlights from the Shelfie Series: "The Glaciers of the Alps and Mountaineering in 1861" by John Tyndall. Published in 1906, the book recounts the explorations of Tyndall into the Alps, fusing science and 'literary beauty' in his vivid descriptions. In addition, this particular copy was graced with a surprise entry of a passage from John Ruskin's 'Sesame & Lilies'. The beautifully penned passage questions human instinct using a mountain guide as an analogy: "You, who have been among the hills, knows how the bad guide chatters and gesticulates, and it is 'put your foot here', and 'mind how you balance yourself there', but the good guide walks on quietly without a word, only with his eyes on you when need is, and his arm like an iron bar if need be."

My main task is to ensure that everything is organized and in good condition so that members and researchers can take full advantage of the collection. This includes performing inventories and updating the database for all the books, pamphlets and periodicals in the ACC’s collection.

My favourite treasures that I’ve come across in the collection are the ones that have additional stories to the ones published within their pages. For example, one copy of A Climber’s Guide to the Rocky Mountains of Canada from 1943 belonged to Edward C. Porter, ACC Life Member and avid collector of mountaineering books from around the world. In fact, it’s his collection that makes up a large portion of the ACC’s Library. Within its pages we found a letter written in 1951 to Mr. Porter from another famous mountaineer, Georgia Engelhard Cromwell, in which Mrs. Cromwell discusses their shared routes in the Canadian Rockies. We also found two photographs, one of Mount Chancellor and one of Mount Victoria. On each photograph Mr. Porter had drawn in his ascent route, marked the date, who he climbed with (in this case it was well-known guide Ernest Feuz), and how long it took him to summit each peak.

Obviously, these books can offer readers so much more than just information as they offer a glimpse into the lives of mountaineers and their roles in mountaineering history.

My secondary task for this internship is getting the collection out into the world of social media for all to discover. This is being done primarily through Instagram and what we like to call the Shelfie Series. Once a week, I have selected a book or a series of books and posted them on the Whyte Museum’s Instagram account (@whytemuseum). This allows people to see what the ACC has in its Library, share it with friends, and hopefully make plans to come and discover more. The Whyte Museum was even featured in the Canadian Mountain Network’s live stream on International Mountain Day in December 2016 where I discussed the ACC’s collection and our Shelfie Series.

 This cheeky book is hiding a secret...it's not just a book! "Mont Blanc Through the Stereoscope" is a box shaped like a book that actually contains a small booklet, describing the travels of M.S. Emery through Switzerland, as well as 23 stereoscopic cards. Stereoscopy is a technique for creating the illusion of depth in an image by placing two offset images separately to the left and right eye of the viewer. They are then combined in the brain when viewed through a stereoscope, to give the perception of depth. This collection was published in 1902 of a trip to Mont Blanc in 1901. The stereogram above is of the ascent of Mont Blanc between the Petit and Grand Plateaus.

This cheeky book is hiding a secret...it's not just a book! "Mont Blanc Through the Stereoscope" is a box shaped like a book that actually contains a small booklet, describing the travels of M.S. Emery through Switzerland, as well as 23 stereoscopic cards. Stereoscopy is a technique for creating the illusion of depth in an image by placing two offset images separately to the left and right eye of the viewer. They are then combined in the brain when viewed through a stereoscope, to give the perception of depth. This collection was published in 1902 of a trip to Mont Blanc in 1901. The stereogram above is of the ascent of Mont Blanc between the Petit and Grand Plateaus.

A third project has involved showcasing a portion of the ACC’s book collection in the Whyte Archives reference room. We have chosen to highlight the following regions: British Columbia, Canadian Rockies, Yukon, Baffin Island, the Himalayas and Mount Everest. We have also moved some of the ACC’s periodical holdings into the reference room, including the Canadian, American, British, Appalachian and Himalayan alpine journals. Both the book and periodical collections will be housed in brand new shelving units installed in the reference room, allowing the public and ACC members better access to the collection.

Working with the ACC collection has provided me with a great introduction to The Alpine Club of Canada itself. A few of the books relate to the history of the Club, its founding and the achievements of many of its members. While cataloguing and organizing the periodicals and pamphlets in the collection however, I gained a glimpse into the true community that exists within the ACC.

In particular, the stories told in the ACC’s Summit Series publications show not only the great achievements of ACC members, but also the companionship, compassion and shared thirst for adventure and learning that can be found in this community among the mountains.

I cringe to admit that I am not yet a member of the ACC. However, I must emphasize the yet, because after spending just three and a half months working with the ACC’s amazing collection, learning about its history and meeting some of its members, it seems to be an inevitable adventure that I am excited to lace my boots up for.