Mountain Treasures on Library Shelves

"I must admit that I have attacks of qualms every time I look at the empty shelves in my office, but I know they are in good hands, and will be looked after better than I can, and that they will be occasionally used. The collector is the one who has received the greatest pleasure from the library and no one else can possibly capture that feeling."

- Edward C. Porter in a letter to Vancouver Public Library librarian Elizabeth B. Walker on December 18th, 1963

The life of an object is something that museums, archives, libraries and galleries all try to discover because it tells a story. Whether that story is about a memory of a loved one or an epic mountaineering tale, it's the stories that give objects value.The following is the story of the Alpine Club of Canada's Library Collection and its' journey from the private collection of an avid mountaineer to The Alpine Club of Canada.  

From the very beginnings of The Alpine Club of Canada it was intended that the Club have a Library. Noted in the original Constitution of The Alpine Club of Canada: 

"The establishment of a library or libraries where the publications of the Club and books, maps, photographs and works of art relating to mountain scenery shall be gethered together and filed for the use of its members." (ACC Constitution, March 27th, 1906, in Winnipeg, Manitoba)

However, one could argue that The Alpine Club of Canada Library Collection truly began with the donation of approximately 700 books from the private collection of Edward C. Porter in 1961. Prior to this the Club had a small collection of books located at the ACC Clubhouse in Banff (as well as at other section houses across the country), but these did not compare to the mass of books that Porter had collected from around the world. 
Edward C. Porter

Although we don't know much about Porter's life we know that he was an enthusiastic mountaineer and book collector living in Chicago, Illinois in the 1950s and 60s. He had a love for the mountains, especially the Canadian Rockies. His relationship with the Canadian Rockies began when he was 8 years old and his father brought his family to explore the Yoho Valley. In a letter from Porter to the ACC's Honorary Librarian Dr. F.C. Bell in 1962, Porter recalls walking the high trails to the Yoho glacier, spending time in the cook tent, and trying to keep up with his father. At the end of his recollection he states: 

"That experience was the dangerous virus infection which left me under the domination of mountains.The next summer we were taken to an Island off the coast of Maine, which my father had just bought. The sea never gripped me as did the mountains of Western Canada."

Porter's Book Plate
Edward C. Porter became a life member of the ACC in 1948 and continued to add to the library collection of the ACC gradually, beginning with those books on Canadian mountaineering. Eventually as he was looking to donate his entire collection he was encouraged by his friend and fellow book collector, Nicholas Clinch, to donate the collection to an organization like the ACC. 

The acquisition of Porter's massive library required a number of standards be met as stated by Porter to ensure the safety of the collection. One of the most important points which had to be met was that they be housed in a fireproof building. The Vancouver Public Library was made with fireproof materials. The Banff ACC Clubhouse was not. 

His second stipulation was that "he did not want to contribute to a museum of books", meaning, he didn't want the books to be locked away so that no one could use and/or benefit from them. Where as the books would be open to members of the ACC during summer months when the Clubhouse was open, if they were housed at the Vancouver Public Library, not only would they be accessible year-round but they would be open to the public, to students, and to a large mountaineering community in metropolitan Vancouver. 

Harry Green, Phyllis Munday, F.C. Bell
at exhibit of Porter Collection in Vancouver Public Library, 1963.
ACC map curator Neil Carter at exhibit of Porter Collection
in Vancouver Public Library, 1963. 

Eventually it was agreed that the ACC Library Collection would be moved to the Vancouver Public Library along with the welcomed addition of Porter's Mountaineering Library. Porter's collection consisted of books from all over the world including Europe, North & South America, and Eastern Asia. These rare volumes provided the perfect foundation on which the members of the ACC could build their collection and make it their own.

 As the collection has grown it has diversified to include a fantastic mixture of the old and the new, the local and the international. Now residing in the Whyte Museum's Library and Archives in Banff, researchers, visitors and ACC members can easily access the collection and fulfill Porter's hope that his library will be of good use to all.

The Whyte Museum Library and Archives are Open Tuesdays to Fridays, from 1 PM to 5 PM. 

Check out the Whyte Museum's Instagram page for #Shelfie posts about the ACC Library Collection.  


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