Banff Life

While living in Banff, Nicholas Morant continued his new work with the Canadian Pacific Railway company, which mostly involved producing promotional content meant to boost tourism in the Canadian Rockies.

During this time, Morant captured skiers, skaters and winter vacationers, and helped to reshape the concept of a Canadian winter vacation for the public. From 1935 to 1939, Morant also worked as a news photographer for the Winnipeg Free Press before returning to his job with Canadian Pacific.

Nicholas Morant during a photoshoot, ca. 1938. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/II/B2/2/PA-90/2).

It was not long after coming to Banff that Nick became friends with Peter and Catharine Whyte (two artists who would later become the namesakes and founders of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies).

 

Nick and his partner, Ivy 'Willie" Morant, shared many experiences and laughs together with the Whytes throughout their adult lives. Catharine in particular embraced Nick's wild sense of humour and his love of practical jokes. At one point, in 1952, Morant even sent a gag gift to the Whytes from across the country while he was staying in Montreal. 

Photographs of Nicholas Morant, 1938, by Peter Whyte. Small pencil note by Morant reads "by Peter Whyte 1938". Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/II/B2/2/89).

April 13 [1952]: Nick Morant sent us a box the other day about the size of a hat box. It came by the big express truck and the expressman wanted so to deliver it himself he came two or three times before he found us in... [He] turned the box around in his hand and there, looking out of a cellophane window, was the cutest toy rabbit you ever saw, with ears on springs that wiggled... Underneath it was written, ‘wild animal, hurry or there will be twenty’. Can’t you imagine the box with a bunny peering out travelling across Canada in an express car!”

- From Catharine Robb Whyte's personal journal, April 1952. Quoted in "Pete 'n' Catharine - Their Story", Ed. Jon Whyte (Banff: The Whyte Foundation, 1980), p. 127.

Rabbit prank, 1952. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (V500/I/A2/E5/NA-1).

Morant's Bear Encounter

'Get well soon' Christmas card for Nicholas Morant, signed by Canadian Pacific staff (1939). Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (M300/II/B2/3/37/1). 

Main text reads: "Hunt big game in Canada. Ask Nicholas Morant for full particulars. Merry Christmas"

Several years after coming to Banff, while he was still in his late 20s, Nicholas Morant endured a harrowing experience. On September 19, 1939, Morant was hiking through the mountains just outside of Banff with a well-travelled Swiss mountain guide named Christian Haessler. Morant's goal was to reach a specific location within the mountains in order to capture scenic images for his work. 

Partway through their trip, the pair unwittingly came into close contact with a mother grizzly bear, who became aggressive as her cub was nearby. Both men hurried up trees to reach safety, but Haessler was not quick enough and the bear pulled him down by his leg. Sitting safely in a tree nearby, Morant decided to climb down and attempt to rescue his friend by distracting the bear with a stick. The grizzly then turned on Morant, mauling him badly.

Meanwhile, Haessler, who was himself badly injured, went off in search of help. Luckily, the grizzly bear's cub let out a sound during Morant's attack which drew the mother bear away. Morant then made his way through the mountains for several hours, with a broken leg, broken arm and severe cuts across his body, before he was rescued.

Click images to zoom:

Article "To the attack! Bare fists against a grizzly" by Philip H. Godsell (Published in Forest & Outdoors magazine, July 1941). Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Nicholas Morant fonds (M300/II/B2/3/79,81,82).

Both Haessler and Morant spent several months recovering from their injuries after the bear attack. Haessler improved at first, but tragically died from related complications one year later; Morant was lucky enough to make a full recovery, and returned to his photography work in 1940.​

'With a terrific roar the bear turned on me. I poked my stick in her face, knowing I waged a losing battle. Here was a primeval situation - man versus beast."

 

- Nicholas Morant, quoted in Star Weekly article 'Ordeal by Grizzly' by Dan Holmes, September 1939.

Below: listen to Nicholas Morant's account of his 1939 bear attack (1950 interview)

Bear Attack Interview - Nicholas Morant
00:00 / 00:00

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (S37/15).

To view a copy of this interview with closed captioning, click here.

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111 Bear Street, Banff, Alberta, T1L 1A3, Canada

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The Whyte Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of The Peter and Catharine Whyte Foundation and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts

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