The British Columbia Mountaineering Club is responsible for early exploration of the North Shore Mountains
It took more than fifty years and sheer determination during a global pandemic for MONOVA: Museum of North Vancouver to become a reality. That hard work included meaningful discussions with Indigenous leaders and community members, countless volunteer hours and painstaking research to amass a collection of more than 9,000 artifacts.
Barbara Hilden, curator of MONOVA, which opened on December 4th, 2021, says the history of mountaineering has been woven into the very fabric of life on the North Shore. “Our early evaluations of what stories the museum should tell showed a passion for place and passion for adventure. That came off loud and clear from the community as a major theme,” says Hilden. “It’s not a huge gallery, but one-third of it, or a little less, is dedicated to the important stories of mountaineering.”
Camp at Lake O'Hara. Photographer George Rose, 1960, BCMC fonds 205. Courtesy of MONOVA: NVMA 80:8.
Hilden says mountaineering was key in the settlement of North Vancouver, decades after it was already home to the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations.
“It started with day trips from Vancouver, and it became a summer village and then cottage country,” says Hilden. “North Vancouver became the jumping-off point for early mountaineering.”
Enroute to Mt. Seymour. Photographer Charles Chapman, 1909, BCMC fonds 205. Courtesy of MONOVA: NVMA 58:19.
It was members of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC), formed in 1907, who were largely responsible for that early exploration, mapping and trail building on and around the mountains surrounding North Vancouver and beyond.
Long-time BCMC member Glenn Woodsworth says while the club has always been dedicated to preserving photographs and written records of the North Shore mountains, in the past those personal collections were often simply passed on by older members “from basement to basement.”
“Then it was eventually decided to give the collection a home and the club consulted with the staff of the Museum of North Vancouver,” says Woodsworth. “Since then, it’s become a valuable part of its collections.”
Upper Tellot with Mt. Munday. Photographers Esther and Martin Kafer, 1969, BCMC fonds 205. Courtesy of MONOVA: NVMA 50:62.
Historical artifacts from that collection found at the museum and online include photos of Dr. Neal Carter, a member of the BCMC from 1920 to 1926. Carter was an early mountaineer, photographer, cartographer and surveyor who was named a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for his mapping work of the mountains. An historical photography exhibit of the BCMC is also available online.
In an article about the history of the club written in 1957, honorary member R.M. Mills notes the BCMC has always been a progressive club and it since its inception welcomed “gentlemen and gentlewomen,” of all professions and incomes, including “lawyers, land surveyors, bankers to nurses, stenographers, cigar maker, piano tuner and real estate men.”
The article continues in part, “It is well to remember that the club from the very start in 1907, was a model of gender equality, the charter members elected a woman as vice-president at the first AGM!”
Climbers with Alpha and Serratus Mountains. Photographer Charles Townsend, 1924, BCMC fonds 205. Courtesy of MONOVA: NVMA: 75:11.
In fact, significant members of the BCMC were Don and Phyllis Munday, a husband-and-wife team at a time when there were few female mountaineers. The couple, who were members of the club until 1930, are credited for the discovery of Mt. Waddington or “Mystery Mountain” as it was known at the time.
Woodsworth notes the club also has long roots in environmental activism and was instrumental in the creation of Garibaldi Park, a campaign launched in 1913, which resulted in the preservation of that land. Part of that campaign included a large camping event in Black Tusk Meadow in the summer of 1926. “People were invited to come and see why it needed preservation,” says Woodsworth.
Woman skiing, Mt. Seymour. Photography by Mary Wells Anderson, 1950s, BCMC fonds 205. Courtesy of MONOVA: NVMA 81:17.
Other examples of the club’s activism include the establishment of Hollyburn Ridge as a park, and the BCMC discovery of uncontrolled logging in Cypress Bowl in the 1970s. BCMC members have been heavily involved in the establishment and management of Cypress Provincial Park ever since.
One of the mandates of the BCMC continues to be the construction and maintenance of huts and trails, starting with a cabin built on Grouse Mountain in 1906. Club trips of varying lengths—for a variety of skills—is just one of the reasons the BCMC continues to grow in popularity. “When I joined there were 125 people in the club,” says Woodsworth. “Now there’s up to 1,100.”
Party leaving the CP train. Photographer George Rose, 1960, BCMC fonds 205. Courtesy of MONOVA: NVMA 80:5.
Hilden says that passion for the mountains is why the Museum of North Vancouver will continue to display exhibits dedicated to mountaineering, including objects about the city’s renowned North Shore Rescue.
“We do also talk about mountaineering maintenance and safety,” says Hilden, “besides the past and the early people who explored these mountains. We want the community to know who we are and what we do and how they’re connected to MONOVA.”