History

Mary M. Vaux: A Picture Journal

Born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - July 30, 1860
Died Saint Andrews, New Brunswick - August 22, 1940

Mary Vaux was the third wife of renowned Burgess Shale explorer Dr. Charles Walcott. She was an accomplished nature photographer and capable field assistant in her own right.

Black and white photograph of a woman holding a bouquet  of flowers, mountains in background

Mary Vaux Walcott standing in front of the Burgess Pass, photographed by Charles Walcott, date unknown.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

Background

Starting in 1887, Mary M. Vaux made many trips through the Canadian Rockies, usually with her family. A noted artist, photographer, and naturalist, Vaux was taken by the scenery and wildlife she saw. Vaux even had a mountain named after her, Mount Mary Vaux in Jasper National Park, Alberta. (This is not the same as Mount Vaux near the Burgess Shale, which was named for William Vaux, a British Museum antiquarian.)

In an article for the Canadian Alpine Journal in 1907, she related some of her experiences in the mountains. It was during her travels through the Canadian Rockies that Mary met Dr. Charles Walcott of the Smithsonian Institution (on August 16, 1907) and grew to share his interest in the geological history of the mountains.

With Walcott in the Rockies

As an experienced photographer, Vaux often assisted Walcott in the field by developing his negatives in camp. When they were not in the field, Vaux and Walcott corresponded. After the tragic death of Walcott's second wife, Helena, in a train crash in 1911, their mutual regard turned to love. (Though as a proper Quaker, Vaux used the formal "Thou" and "Thee" to refer to Walcott in her early letters.) The two married in 1914.

Legacy

Mary Vaux took hundreds of photographs which captured her travels through the Rockies. Many of her photographs are kept in the collections of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies in Banff, Alberta. Her pictures and writings give a unique glimpse of the great mountains as they would have appeared to the first generation of tourists to visit the area.

Photographs and Writings

This "Picture Journal" offers a selection of Mary Vaux's photographs depicting various aspects of life in the field, supported by her own written words from 1907 and 1912.

Field Photography

"A camera is a very delightful adjunct, for it is pleasant to have some tangible results to show, on your return home. A Kodak, if no larger instrument can be managed, yields most satisfactory results, although the better records from a larger-sized camera are an increased delight, when one has the patience and skill to obtain them. For changing plates in camp, an improvised tepee can be made of the blankets, and, if this is done after sundown, is quite satisfactory."

Camping in the Canadian Rockies, Canadian Alpine Journal 1, no. 1 (1907), 67-71.

Black and white photo of Mary Vaux bending over camera

Mary Vaux photographing flowers in the Rocky Mountains, date unknown.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

Colour photo of flowers

Pasque flower or prairie crocus, photographed by Mary Vaux in the Canadian Rockies between 1894 and 1912.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

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Settling Camp

"Now as to appliances and outfit: To begin with, a good tent is required, plenty of warm blankets, and a canvas sheet to spread under and over the blankets on the bough-bed, to prevent dampness from above and below; then, a small pillow is a great luxury, and takes but little room in the pack."

"Each person should be provided with a canvas bag, which can be securely buttoned, wherein to place the necessary toilet articles. An extra pair of light shoes, a short skirt to wear in camp and a golf cape with hood, add greatly to the comfort of the camper; also a good-sized piece of mosquito netting, to keep off intruding bulldogs; while a hot water bottle and a box of mustard may be tucked in along with a few simple medicines in case of emergency."

Camping in the Canadian Rockies, Canadian Alpine Journal 1, no. 1 (1907), 67-71.

Black and white photo of person sleeping on bedroll

Man sleeping in campsite, Yoho National Park, 1907.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Colour photograph of camp

Canadian Alpine Club Camp, Sherbrooke Lake, British Columbia, 1911.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black and white shot of camp site with smoking fire

Camp site, Spray Lakes, Alberta, 1907.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

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Women's attire

"Of course, it is pre-supposed that the women of the party wear rational clothes: knickerbockers, a flannel shirtwaist, and knotted kerchief at the neck; stout boots, with hobnails, laced to the knee, or arranged for puttees; woollen stockings, a felt hat with moderate brim, and a sweater or short coat completing the outfit."

Camping in the Canadian Rockies, Canadian Alpine Journal 1, no. 1 (1907), 67-71.

Black and white photo of man and woman sitting on large rock

Unidentified man and woman along trail near Lake O'Hara, British Columbia, 1907.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black and white photo of woman posing with walking stick

Men and woman with walking stick, unknown location in the Canadian Rockies, 1904.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black and white photo of people posing on rock in ice field

Man and women on a trail, unknown location in the Canadian Rockies, 1909.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black and white photo of woman in cowboy-style outfit in field

Unidentified woman in buckskin, Spray Lake, Alberta, 1907.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

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While Riding a Horse

"A light waterproof coat, opened well behind, to allow it to part over the horse's back, and which may be fastened to the saddle, is very necessary in a region where storms must be expected frequently."

Camping in the Canadian Rockies, Canadian Alpine Journal 1, no. 1 (1907), 67-71.

Colour photo of horses on trail

Travelling to Burgess Pass, British Columbia, 1910.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black and white photo of man leading horse along trail

Walking along an unidentified trail in the Canadian Rockies, 1909.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

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Nutrition

"The food taken is largely a matter for personal selection. We have eliminated canned things very largely, and find the change to dried foods not at all distasteful-of course, with the proviso that they are properly cooked. Bacon, ham, tea, coffee, evaporated cream, butter, oatmeal, rice, beans, flour, canned tomatoes, canned soup, onions, potatoes, pickles, marmalade, cheese and dried fruits can be so prepared that, with hunger sauce, there is nothing left to be desired in the way of a larger bill of fare. Trout and game are always a welcome addition to the larder."

Camping in the Canadian Rockies, Canadian Alpine Journal 1, no. 1 (1907), 67-71.

Black and white photo of woman in camp with supplies

Unidentified woman in camp with supplies, Lake O'Hara, British Columbia, 1907.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

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Swiss Guides

"Of, if one wishes a still higher climb, one can venture across Abbot pass (9000 feet above sea) and down the Victoria glacier to Lake Louise. But this is only safe with an experienced Swiss guide, as the pass is frequently traversed by avalanches on its northern side."

Camping in the Canadian Rockies, Canadian Alpine Journal 1, no. 1 (1907), 67-71.

Black and white photo of Swiss Guide helping woman walk along glacier

Swiss guide helping woman cross snow bridge, Selkirk Mountains?, British Columbia, 1900?

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

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The Call of the Mountains

"Of course golf is a fine game, but can it compare with a day on the trail, or a scramble over the glacier, or even with a quiet day in camp to get things in order for the morrow's conquest? Some how when once this wild spirit enters the blood, golf courses & hotel piazzas, be they ever so brilliant, have no charm, and I can hardly wait to be off again."

Letter to Charles Walcott, 3-11-1912

Black and white photo of party of climbers at summit of Mount Stephen

Party of climbers at summit of Mount Stephen, British Columbia, between 1894 and 1912.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black and white photo of avalanche in progress

Falling avalanche, British Columbia, between 1894 and 1912.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black and white photo of waterfall

View of Takakkaw Fall from Lookout Point, British Columbia, 1901.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

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The Mighty Glaciers

"The glaciers must be measured, and I shall hope to use the camera seriously, and get all I can. Last summer's work was such a disappointment in photographic results."

Letter to Charles Walcott, 4-1-1912

Black and white photo of two people climbing glacier

Glacier climbing, unknown location in the Canadian Rockies, 1905.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

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The Intriguing Fossils

"I had some time to myself last evening, and so took up thy report on the Burgess Fossil bed. I was most interested in the wonderful fossils, and hope I may, some time, have an opportunity to see them. We have some very beautiful trilobites from Mt Stephen, that we got before the location was so much patronized, but they are only the common ones. How much we pass by, owing to our lack of knowledge in recognizing the value of what we see."

Letter to Charles Walcott, 4-1-1912

Black and white photo of mountain

Mount Field from trail to Fossil Bed, British Columbia, 1901.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black and white photo of man looking at rocks

Unidentified man looking at rock (for fossils?), Field, British Columbia, 1900.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

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Yoho Glacier

"It is to me the loveliest spot to be found, and always quickens my blood when I hear and speak of it, and I can imagine no greater than camping there away from the tourist, and the noise of the iron horse."

Camping in the Canadian Rockies, Canadian Alpine Journal 1, no. 1 (1907), 67-71.

Black and white photo of people standing by glacier

Visitors to Yoho Glacier, British Columbia, 1907.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black and white photo of man on horseback by glacier

Man riding horse by Yoho Glacier, British Columbia, 1907.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

Black and white photo of train on bridge in Kicking Horse Pass

Train steaming along Kicking Horse Bridge with Mount Stephen in the background, British Columbia, 1901.

© WHYTE MUSEUM OF THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

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Letter to Charles Walcott

"Sometimes I feel that I can hardly wait till the time comes to escape from city life, to the free air of the everlasting hills."

Letter to Charles Walcott, 2-19-1912

Black and white photo of elderly man and woman

Mary Vaux Walcott and Charles Doolittle Walcott, date unknown.

© Smithsonian Institution Archives

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