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Joseph William Andrew Hickson, 1873-1956



A member of our club since 1910, pioneer in the Canadian Rockies, and formerly professor of psychology at McGill University, Dr. Hickson died suddenly at his home in Montreal on April 22, 1956. Noel Odell, en route from New Zealand to England, called his house that morning, only to be told that he had died a few hours previously, having been apparently well the day before.

I first met him in the Canadian Rockies about forty years ago. Both before and since that time he had been climbing with Edward Feuz, with whom he made about thirty first ascents during the years 1905 to 1930. He began climbing in 1900 in the Alps, where he had some five seasons interspersed with seventeen seasons in the Canadian Rockies and Selkirks. His first ascents included: Pinnacle, Mount Douglas (White Douglas), Chephren (Pyramid), Sir Douglas, Joffre, Fifi (near Louis), Spring-Rice, King Edward (with Howard Palmer), Bastion Peak, Fryatt (also with Palmer), Throne Mountain, Castle (now Eisenhower) (new route, by E face of SE tower), Robertson, Cataract Peak, and about as many more in the Canadian Rockies, as well as Moloch, in the Selkirks. For many years he was troubled by a leg injury as a result of being rolled-on when his horse floundered in a bad place on the trail. Despite a bowed leg, he continued to climb when many people would have stopped, but he was finally forced to give in at the age of 57, though he did visit the mountains in two or three later summers.

He was born and lived most of his life in Montreal. His father, Sir Joseph Hickson, was at one time president of the Grand Trunk Railroad. He graduated from McGill in 1893, winning the gold medal in mental and moral philosophy. He gained his master’s degree in 1897, and his doctorate in philosophy, in Germany, in 1900 after studying at the universities of Berlin, Freiberg, and Halle. He was on the faculty at McGill from 1901 to 1924, teaching both psychology and philosophy, and for the last 13 years as professor of metaphysics and logic. He had a brilliant and independent mind and did not always agree with his associates, a fact which contributed to his rather early retirement. In later years he interested himself in various charities, also in the Art Association of Montreal in an executive capacity, and later was made honorary president of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

From 1924 to 1926 he was president of the Alpine Club of Canada. He edited the Canadian Alpine Journal from 1928 to 1930. In 1954 A.C.C. made him an Honorary Member. He also belonged to the Alpine Club (London), and was a Corresponding Member of the Appalachias Mountain Club. He always valued his membership in our club highly, and the additional associations with our members, several of which were maintained actively to the end. In 1926, Hickson and Howard Palmer, then presidents, respectively, of the Alpine Club of Canada and the American Alpine Club, and both, incidentally, bachelors, made five ascents together, including Mount Fryatt. Accounts of Hickson’s climbs always appeared faithfully in the various journals; and for Appalachia, February 1926, he wrote a history of "Mountaineering in the Canadian Alps, 1906- 1925."

Hickson was an unusual and stimulating person. His observations about people and situations were interesting, penetrating, and often witty. He held certain opinions and attitudes which were often rather original and different, but he was one of those men with whom it was as much fun to disagree as to be in complete agreement. He could say the most surprising things with a straight face and then not laugh until you did. He was a conservative in some respects and pretty far from it in others. He was a rare personality. We shall greatly miss him. He is survived by a brother and two sisters.

Henry S. Hall, Jr.