The Vaux Family and the Canadian Alps

Jim Frankenfield;; 1-877-604-0166

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Among the early explorers in the Rogers Pass and Yoho areas were the Vaux family of Philadelphia. The most commonly used bivy site for Mt. Sir Donald and Uto Peak is the Vaux bivy site. Having grown up outside Philadelphia myself I have found this history to be rather interesting. In April of 1997 I was able to visit an exhibit in Philadelphia of some of the Vaux families photographs and other memorabilia. The description of this exhibit follows, with a book reference at the end.


Occasional Miscellany;
Library Company of Philadelphia;
Fall 1996

Exploring the Canadian Alps:
the Vaux Family Rocky Mountain Photographs, 1899-1936

Opening in our exhibition gallery on November 14 will be a display of strikingly beautiful photographs taken in the Canadian Rockies by several members of Philadelphia's Vaux family. The completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 and the beginning of transcontinental passenger service the following year made possible the exploration of the remote, forbidding, and previously inaccessible Canadian Rockies. Among the very first to take advantage of this new opportunity were the three children of Philadelphian George Vaux, Sr. - George Vaux, Jr. (1863-1927), William S. Vaux, Jr. (1872-1908), and Mary M. Vaux (1880-1940). They first visited the area in 1887 while on a western vacation. The family was immediately smitten by the awesome beauty of the region and at least one of the three siblings or George Jr.'s son George (1908-1996) returned each year until 1940.

During those numerous excursions, the Vaux family documented photographically the landscape they encountered, creating a rich archive of hundreds of arresting images of mountains, valleys, waterfalls, glaciers, ice formations, campgrounds, and the hotels and bridges built by the Canadian Pacific Railway. In some of the photographs the presence of people - either family members or their Swiss guides - provides scale and helps convey a sense of of the immense scope of their beloved "Canadian Alps."

The Vauxes were more than amateur photographers. All three siblings were members of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia and exhibited regularly in the Society's juried competitions. Through years of observation and measurement, the family also became expert glaciologists and contributed many technical papers to the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Several of those publications, as well as other books illustrated with Vaux photographs, the camera used to make the photographs, and such equipment as ice axes and barometers, will also be displayed. The exhibition will be on view until April 25, 1997.

The Library Company began planning this exhibition with the enthusiastic cooperation of George Vaux, the tenth-generation Vaux to carry that name. He shared with us his forebears' (and his own) remarkable photographs and his deep knowledge of the Canadian Rockies. We were saddened by his recent death at the age of eighty-seven, and we are grateful to his family for helping us complete the exhibition. Through these remarkable photographs we can appreciate the spell which the Canadian Alps cast on those fortunate enough to experience them up close.

A good book on the Vaux family and the "Canadian Alps", including many of their photographs, is:

Legacy in Ice
The Vaux Family and the Canadian Alps
Edward Cavell

Distributed by:

Altitude Publishing
Box 490
Banff, AB T0L 0C0
(403) 762-4548

Copies may also be available from the Library Company of Philadelphia;

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