The Mountaineers: Famous Climbers in Canada

Publication Year: 1980.

The Mountaineers: Famous Climbers in Canada by Phil Dowling, Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton, 1979, 258 pages including index, 16 photographs, $13.95.

This is a charmingly written partial biography of ten selected persons who have contributed heavily to the development and history of alpinism in Western Canada. The choices are reasonable and the style of writing excellent; but one wishes that the research, though close to thorough, had been complete. Such would have removed a number of little haunting errors that distract the well-read viewer from the merit of this volume.

Publisher Mel Hurtig is a vigorous champion of Canadiana. Regrettably, in his zeal to get on with a good cause, both finer details of fact and typography are sometimes overlooked. A footnote on page 20 notes a second ascent of Mount Hector in 1923 whereas the second ascent of that peak actually occurred in 1902 and was made by E. W. D. Holway with guide Jacob Miller. The otherwise charming and authoritative review of the part of Professor Fay in Canadian and other mountaineering ventures describes the view from the south summit to Mount Victoria of the jagged and rotten rock crest which “falls away to the north.” The simple substitution of the word “west” would correct the geographical description. On page 115, in the biographical review of Uncle Ed Feuz which does true justice to North America’s greatest guide, we are told that the party took the train to Gold River. This would have been a most unusual accomplishment for though the C.P.R. did indeed survey a line around the Big Bend, portions of which Howard Palmer had used for his base line in Selkirk triangulation, no construction was ever undertaken. There was a trail, however (could this be a typo?) which ran from Golden more or less along the line of the later Trans-Canada Highway down to Bush River (opposite the Gold) and beyond. But only the guides were sent down that trail (much to their displeasure). The two climbers did, indeed, take the train, but to Beavermouth, whence they went down to the Gold River via canoe. On page 146 at the start of a chapter on Phyllis Munday, without doubt the first lady of North American alpinism, one reads that with her husband Don “no similar husband-wife partnership has ever existed in the annals of mountaineering.” This reviewer, having been brought up near the birthplace of the Workmans, and over the years shared much of the hospitality and company of the Underhills, finds that statement open to some question. A few pages farther along a footnote informs us that in 1936 Wiessner was “a Swiss living in the United States.” By that date, though having been born in Dresden in now what is East Germany, Fritz was a naturalized American. There are a few other minor points (Mount Lyell has four summits, not three) all of which are mistakes which any author could easily make but would have been caught by a good editor prior to publication. They do not detract from the general merit of this volume and perhaps this reviewer happens to be only a knowledgeable nitpicker.

The persons reviewed are: Charles Fay, Val Fynn, Albert MacCarthy, Conrad Kain, Ed Feuz, Phyl Munday, Fred Beckey, Hans Gmoser, Brian Greenwood and Dick Culbert. This is a reasonable choice if one is limited to ten; but the judgment of history is not nearly closed on the latter four, and I would have been inclined to include John Chalmers Herdman and Edward Willett Dorland Holway.

William L. Putnam