Vaux, Mary
(1860-1940)

An American from Philadelphia, Mary Vaux (pronounce “vox”) first visited the mountains of Canada in 1887, staying at Glacier House on Rogers Pass the first year it was open. Returning in 1894, she spent numerous summers in the Selkirks and the Canadian Rockies with her brothers George jr. and William S. Vaux jr. Over a number of years she participated in the family’s detailed study of glaciation, in particular the glaciers of the Selkirks near Glacier House but also of Wenkchemna, Yoho, and Victoria glaciers in the Rockies. The family seemed to fall in love with the Canadian mountains and made frequent trips to the Selkirks and Rockies over a two decade period, surveying, mapping, photographing, and painting. These studies resulted in an illustrated pamphlet that the CPR produced and updated many times. Mary wrote the last update that was completed in 1922. She did this at a time when few women were involved in science.

Mary was an original member of the Alpine Club of Canada and attended the first camp in 1906 at Yoho Pass. Together with her friend Mary Schaffer, she explored the Nakimu Caves near Rogers Pass. Her climb of Mount Stephen in 1900 was the first major ascent by a woman of a peak over 3050 m.

In 1914, at the age of fifty-four, she married Dr. Charles D. Walcott, the noted geologist who discovered the Burgess Shale Fossils during his extensive studies of the Canadian Rockies. She continued her hobby of painting wildflowers while she accompanied him on his field trips. In 1925 the Smithsonian Institute published her watercolour drawings, some 400 of them, in a book entitled “North American Wildflowers.”

Dr. Walcott passed away in 1927. Mary made her last visit to the Yoho Valley in 1939 where it is said that she found, “too many tourists in the mountains for her liking. . .tourists who didn’t care much about their surroundings."

Of her love of the mountains and wilderness, Mary wrote, “. . .nowhere else is there such a wealth of beauty and interest, and I conclude that the haunts so attractive to the world have no attraction for me. Of course golf is a fine game, but can it compare with a day on the trail, or scramble over the glacier or even with a quiet day in camp to get things in order for tomorrow’s conquests? Somehow when once the wild spirit enters the blood, golf courses and hotel piazzas, be they ever so brilliant, have no claim and I can hardly wait to be off again.”

She was said to be, "Entirely self-reliant, she drew people to her by the force of her independence and character."

[See Mount Mary Vaux]

[Additional Information: “Off the Beaten Track” by Cyndi Smith]

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