Elizabeth Rummel in the Canadian Rockies

Elizabeth Rummel at Skoki Lodge, 1944, (V554 / 894 (PA), Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

The story of early skiing in the Canadian Rockies and of people such as Lizzie Rummel is just one of the several sections in the new Gateway to the Rockies exhibition being developed by the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. We want your input and feedback on this permanent (ten year life) exhibition that we are planning to open at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in the spring of 2012. Tell us what you think of this and the other concepts and stories featured here. Let us know how you think we could make this exhibition more interesting. Please keep in mind that this is a draft of the storyline, not the finished product. As the stories develop, information will be updated.

Elizabeth von Rummel (Lizzie Rummel) (1897 – 1980), born into aristocracy in turn-of-the-century Germany, came with her family to live and work on a ranch in the Alberta foothills to escape life in her WW I ravaged homeland. At the age of 41, when most people were settling into middle age, Lizzie struck out on another challenge; for 32 years she ran backcountry lodges like Skoki and Assiniboine, for which she received the Order of Canada and the friendship of hundreds of people whose lives were enhanced by her special charm.

Elizabet(h) von Rummel, the daughter of Baron von Rummel, was born into the German aristocracy in 1897. Despite the divorce of her mother and the Baron, the family was never without means. Her mother had family money and her second husband was also well established, and when he died not long after they were married, she inherited his estate and eventually married an Italian artist. Elizabet and her two sisters were well educated (they had a governess) they traveled extensively with their mother, took riding lessons and really had all the advantages of the very wealthy. The family came to Alberta for ranch holidays in the summers starting in about 1911, and actually even attended the first Calgary Stampede in 1912, which was apparently quite a highlight for Elizabet.

At that time, it was quite a trip. They sailed from Europe, then it was a four-day train ride from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Calgary. They then hired a democrat to take them to Priddis, southwest of Calgary. The three girls were left in a boarding house there while Elsa and her husband, Robert went on to Gate Ranch that Elizabet’s mother had purchased from Germany. That’s quite a good story. Elsa, Elizabet’s mother, was at a dinner party in Munich and the guests were discussing her extensive travelling. A gentleman teasingly said to her, “I know one place where you have not been.” That place was Canada, and before she knew it, Elsa was the owner of three quarter sections of land in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. It changed her and her children’s lives forever.

The First World War suddenly broke out in the summer of 1914 when the family was in Canada. During the War I, the family’s wealth essentially disappeared because they no longer had access to it, Canada being a British colony and Germany now the enemy. When war came, Elizabet found herself living on the ranch with her family and hard physical work became their new way of life. They realized that they could turn Gate Ranch from the pleasure ranch that it had been into a working ranch that gave them an opportunity to earn a living. Elizabet had taken an interest in cooking during her summers in Canada, so she took on the housework. Her sisters preferred to work outdoors. They all had to learn how to cook and clean because they had always had servants to do everything for them. By the time it was possible for them to return to Germany, the foothills country of Alberta had become their home.

Their life was not all hard labour. They spoke 4 different languages in their home, they had three hundred German books and a piano. It was truly Canadian in its multi-culturalism. They were not able to pursue further education in Canada and Elizabet always regretted not being able to continue with piano lessons.

Although they returned to Germany in 1919 for one winter because Elizabet’s grandmother was ill, the girls did not want to stay there. They came back to the ranch and began raising Clydesdale horses. The three girls did everything including breaking the horses to drive and doing their own farrier work. They experienced a great loss when the bottom dropped out of the workhorse market because of the advent of tractors. They then took to raising milk cows. But each summer from 1920 until 1932 , the girls, together with their friends, took a holiday from ranch life by riding west through the mountains to the Kananaskis Lakes and into the Sheep and Highwood areas.

In 1938, at the age of 41, Lizzie decided she needed a change, so she rode by horseback into Erling Strom’s Mount Assiniboine Lodge to work as a chambermaid. Elizabeth said, “ I just wanted to do something on my own. Perhaps run a guest ranch. I knew how to cook and I knew how to operate a place where there were no stores.” Lizzie proved to be a perfect hostess at Assiniboine. Her wonderful German background, combined with life on an Alberta ranch made it possible for her to cope with anything from entertaining guests to saddling horses, making beds or helping in the kitchen. She could never have imagined how much this first year at Assiniboine would change her life.

The following spring she skied into the lodge. She said, “I couldn’t ski for sour apples.” She somehow managed the two day ski trip into Assiniboine, met Jackrabbit Johannson, a celebrated cross-country skier from Quebec who was Strom’s special guest, and learn a little more about skiing.” She worked at Assiniboine until the end of the summer of 1941.

She became involved with the Alpine Club of Canada and began operating Skoki Lodge in 1943. Skoki is a beautiful log lodge, now a nationally designated historic resource, eighteen kilometers from Lake Louise reached by a trail over Boulder Pass and Deception Pass. The lodge is at an elevation of 2400 meters. By 1947 she was operating Temple Lodge and the Lake Louise Ski Lodge as well.

Skoki Lodge was the dream of Cyril Paris and Cliff White Senior and Cliff White was one of Lizzie’s best friends. She said that Cliff was the only man who would not tell her ‘grizzly stories that would make your hair stand on end.”

It was Lizzie's operation of Skoki Lodge that became a highpoint not only in her life but in hundreds of other people's lives as well. It was here the nickname of "Lizzie" came to be used more frequently. While many of her friends and acquaintances still called her Elizabeth ("Well, she was a baroness," Jim Deegan said.), a greater number affectionately called her Lizzie, and it was with this nickname that she became most well known.

Initially, Lizzie barely broke even financially, but she loved the life. During the war years it was hard to get food because of the rationing but she managed to survive with the same food concessions granted to restaurants and each fall Ken Jones, the first Canadian to become a certified mountain guide, and his friends would go into Skoki to cut wood for the following winter.

During the winter months Lizzie hired young fellows to act as packers for the meat and perishable supplies which had to be brought into the lodge. Lizzie even gave work to Hans Gmoser, who later introduced helicopter skiing to the Canadian Rockies, when he first came to Canada from Austria.

Lizzie returned to Mount Assiniboine and operated Sunburst Lodge in the Mount Assiniboine area from 1951 until 1970. She became well known for her friendliness and love of the mountains. Lizzie passed away in October 1980 in Canmore.

Lizzie was awarded the Order of Canada in 1979. The citation read, “Mountaineer par excellence, protector of the environment, authority on local flora and fauna, and friend to countless hikers in the mountains near Banff. She has enriched her country by sharing her deep love of the Rocky Mountains with all who meet her.” Rummel Lake, Rummel Pass and Rummel Creek in Kananaskis Country are named in her memory.

To make your donation to the Gateway to the Rockies exhibition or any of our Giving Programs, please visit http://www.whyte.org/ and click "Get Involved."

Comments

  1. My grandparents, Gerhard and Hanna Colm, were fortunate to have camped with Lizzie in 1957 in the Canadian Rockies. We've got lots of pictures of them, the trip, the terrain and Lizzie.

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  2. My grandmother, Muriel Wallinger was great friends with Lizzie Rummel; I remember going with my grandmother to visit Lizzy Rummel at her little cabin. Great memory!

    Jane Boileau

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