Mary Vaux and Charles Walcott

Mary Vaux at Illecillewaet Glacier, 1898. Vaux family fond, (v653-ng-456),
Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

The story of Mary Vaux and Charles Walcott is just one of the many stories 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.

The Canadian Rockies drew affluent and cultured Americans from the east coast. Mary Morris Vaux Walcott (1860 – 1940) was an American scientist and artist. She explored the backcountry of Alberta and British Columbia between the late 1880s and 1930s, scaling mountains with her camera and paint box at hand.

Mary was raised in a Quaker family. Quakers saw women as equals at a time when most people did not share this view. Her father and two younger brothers inspired Mary's passion for nature. The family saw the mountains of western Canada for the first time in 1887, while travelling on the recently completed Canadian Pacific Railway. They stayed at Glacier House at Rogers Pass (now Glacier National Park) in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia the first year it was open, and made frequent visits over the next two decades. With her brothers, she became a pioneer in glacial studies. Their photographic record of glaciers between the late 1800s and the 1930s are still used for comparative analysis today.

During the family’s trips to the Rockies, Mary developed into an amateur naturalist, photographer, and mountain climber. When she reached the summit of Mount Stephen in 1900 at the age of 40, Mary became the first woman to make a major ascent of a peak in Canada over 10,000 feet (3,050 meters). Eventually, she combined her interests in the mountains with her life-long love of painting. Encouraged by a botanist’s request to paint a rare blooming arnica, she decided to concentrate on botanical illustration, painting more than 1,000 wildflower watercolours.

In 1925, the Smithsonian Institution published some 400 of her illustrations in a five-volume work entitled North American Wild Flowers, which became known as "the Audubon of Botany."

Vaux 04.1.w14n-pl.115, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Mary and Charles
In 1913, while on a research trip to the Canadian Rockies, Mary Morris Vaux met Charles Doolittle Walcott, an eminent geologist and invertebrate paleontologist who was conducting geological research. Walcott, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., had discovered the Burgess Shale fossils during an earlier visit.

In June of 1914, Mary, then 54, married Charles. She became an active hostess in Washington, D.C. and helped her husband in a variety of projects. The couple spent three to four months each summer in the Canadian Rockies, where Walcott continued his research, and Mary painted watercolour studies of native flowers.

Charles died in 1927, but Mary continued taking trips to the Canadian Rockies every summer until 1939.
Thanks to George Vaux III, the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies has photographs and manuscripts, plus photographic, mountaineering, and survey equipment used on the Vaux family's trips to the mountains.


Popular posts from this blog

SkiBig3: How Did We Get Here?

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

SkiBig3: How Did We Get Here?