mary schäffer warren

Mary Schäffer Warren (1861-1939) was a renowned artist, explorer, and photographer active throughout the Canadian Rockies from 1888 until her death in 1939. Originally from Pennsylvania, Mary Schäffer came from a respected Quaker family and was close friends with Mary Vaux, who first brought her to visit the Rockies, and who introduced Mary Schäffer to her first husband, Dr. Charles Schäffer.

Once married, the Schäffers continued to visit the Canadian Rockies during the summers while Charles Schäffer conducted his botanical research. Mary Schäffer, a skilled painter, assisted her husband in his work by painting specimens he found. Following Charles’ death in 1903 she completed his unfinished work and, having fallen in love with the mountains herself, continued to visit during the summers to conduct her own adventures on horseback. Her guide on these travels, William (Billy) Warren would later become her second husband and her constant companion for the rest of her life.

Sometime in the early 1900s Mary Schäffer Warren took up photography, possibly due in part to severe nerve pain that made it difficult for her to paint as she once had. A natural talent with the medium, she was able to continue a small amount of painting by tinting the lantern slides she took on her travels. During World War I Schäffer Warren put together a collection of lantern slides (some of which she took, a few she acquired from other photographers), coloured them, and sent them to be shown in hospitals in England. Since she was not there to give the presentations herself, she wrote a script to accompany them and called the collection “In the Heart of the Canadian Rockies with Horse and Camera.”

Schäffer Warren's lantern slides have become iconic and feature prominently in her book “Old Indian Trails of the Canadian Rockies” (which has been republished by the Whyte Museum as "A Hunter of Peace") and also form the basis for Michale Lang’s book “An Adventurous Woman Abroad.” 

Mary Schäffer Warren passed away in 1939 at the age of 78 and is now across the street from her home Tarry-A-While in the old Banff Cemetery. She remains an iconic figure of early Banff and her passion for the wild places of the Rockies and her luminous lantern slides continue to resonate with people today.