Archival Highlights: Malcolm Geddes
By Kate Skelton, Processing Archivist
One of the most fascinating parts of working with archival collections is uncovering personal histories - whether that means getting to know a familiar name better, or discovering someone’s story for the first time. This past winter, I was introduced to Malcolm Geddes: a mountaineer, writer, and outdoorsman whose personal connection to the Canadian Rockies is undeniable.
Malcolm Daniel Geddes (1866-1927) was born in the small fishing town of Wick in Northern Scotland, and immigrated to Canada with his family at the age of 10. Malcolm studied at the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, Ontario (now Guelph University), graduating in 1898. A few years later, he met the love of his life, Mary Jane “Jennie” Waters. The couple married in 1903, and moved to Calgary shortly after. Malcolm and Jennie raised two children together, Alvin and Enid (Darroch) Geddes.
Malcolm was a talented writer and editor, and he put these skills to good use in his professional life. Malcolm worked as Associate Editor of the newsletter The Farmer’s Advocate, and in 1904 he co-founded the Farm and Ranch Review. In his spare time, Malcolm made regular trips to Banff with his family, where he developed a love for mountaineering and mountain photography. Malcolm preserved highlights from his adventures in the form of glass lantern slides, many of which were hand-coloured by Jennie. Over 300 of Malcolm’s lantern slides, as well as a small collection of 34 cartoon lantern slides, now form part of his collection in the Whyte Museum Archives.
Over the years, camping trips to Banff became a tradition for Malcolm and his family. Malcolm kept busy working as co-owner of Geddes and Sheffield Real Estate in Calgary, but he spent much of his personal time fixated on the Canadian Rockies. He wrote dozens of poems and articles about the Rockies, many of which focus on areas in and around Banff. Malcolm’s poems describe his experiences visiting and hiking in the mountains, and the deep emotional impact which the Rockies had on him.
Malcolm joined the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) in 1917, and dove enthusiastically into his passion for mountaineering. He went on numerous camping trips and other expeditions with the ACC over the next decade, some of which his son Alvin also participated in. In total, Malcolm was involved in five first ascents between 1917 and 1927, including Mount Geikie in 1924. Malcolm also served as Honorary Secretary for the ACC from 1924 to 1926.
Malcolm Geddes died in a mountaineering accident near Mount Lefroy in 1927, at the age of 61. To commemorate his impressive mountaineering feats and his dedication to the ACC, Mount Geddes and Geddes Glacier (located in the Waddington Range in British Columbia) were named in Malcolm’s honour. Around 1970, Malcolm’s children and extended family members published a book of his original poetry, titled “The Unclimbed Peak”.
Malcolm spent much of his adult life, especially his later years, appreciating and exploring Banff and the Canadian Rockies. Malcolm celebrated his love of the mountains through his writing and photography, passing on this sentiment to future generations.
I would like to thank the Geddes family for their generous donation of archival materials to the Whyte Museum Archives and Library, including Malcolm’s lantern slide collection, original poetry drafts, family photographs and much more. The processing of this collection was made possible through the 2020/2021 Library and Archives Canada Documentary Heritage Communities Program (DHCP). This program funded the project “Stories in the Mountains: processing, preserving and digitizing fonds of select Alpine Club of Canada members for access”. Additional information about Malcolm Geddes and his collection is available through our online database.
Image 1 – Portrait of Malcolm Geddes, [ca 1910-1920], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Malcolm Geddes fonds (V756/III/C/PA-2)
Image 2 – Malcolm and Jennie Geddes with their children Alvin and Enid [ca. 1925], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Malcolm Geddes fonds (V756/III/C/PA-28)
Image 3 – Unidentified lake view in Banff National Park, [ca. 1925], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Malcolm Geddes fonds (V756/I/B/PS-151)
Image 4 – Downtown Banff, [ca. 1925], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Malcolm Geddes fonds (V756/I/B/PS-155)
Image 5 – “The Call of the Mountains” draft, [ca. 1910-1920], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Malcolm Geddes fonds (M39/I/B/2)
Image 6 – “Calgarian in First Party to Conquer Mt. Geikie” [Calgary Herald, July 18, 1924], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Malcolm Geddes fonds (M39/III/A/1)
Image 7 – Malcolm Geddes (right) and two unidentified hikers at Abbot Pass, [ca. 1925], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Malcolm Geddes fonds (V756/III/A/PA-20)
Image 8 – Malcolm Geddes (far left) and three unidentified hikers near Abbot Pass, [ca. 1925], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Malcolm Geddes fonds (V756/III/A/PA-24)
Provincial Archives of Alberta. “Geddes Family Fonds.” Accessed May 1, 2021. https://hermis.alberta.ca/paa/Details.aspx?ObjectID=PR1260&dv=True&deptID=1
Alberta on Record. “Malcolm Geddes”. Accessed May 1, 2021. https://albertaonrecord.ca/geddes-malcolm
People Finder. “Malcolm Daniel Geddes”. Last updated 2021. http://www.peakfinder.com/people/117
“M.D. Geddes, Leading Alpinist, Killed by Fall at Mt. Lefroy.” Crag and Canyon, August 5, 1927.