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Child's Play

By Amie Lalonde, Registrar and Collections Assistant


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What was your plaything of choice as a child? Mine was definitely stuffed animals, bears in

particular. I remember at some point lining up all 52 of my bears on the stairs, from largest to smallest, for an official inventory of them (I was primed to work in a museum from an early age). Without having known Catharine Robb Whyte, I have a strong feeling that she was partial to dolls as a child and that this influenced her adult collecting as well. My evidence for this feeling is not only the quantity of dolls of all kinds within the Whyte Home collection, but also several archival photographs of Catharine as a child. These photographs come from an album full of photographs of Catharine and her brother Russell Robb g rowing up at their family home in Concord, Massachusetts. In many of the photographs Catharine is seen playing with several different dolls (also cuddling with a variety of kittens and puppies, head over to the album to see for yourself).


Clockwise from top left: Album Catharine #2 [1906 -1911], Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies V683/IV/A/PD/9/25/1; V683/IV/A/PD/9/13/3; V683/IV/A/PD/9/131; V683/IV/A/PD/9/11/1)


While not all of the dolls pictured above are in our collection, one (and possibly two) are still in

the Whyte Home. The first is Rosie as a tag on her back calls her. With moveable arms, legs, a head of real hair, and an impressive wardrobe Rosie was certainly well loved by Catharine and is pictured in 3 of the images above. Rosie has a bisque china head with delicately painted features and even has pierced ears! Rosie's many outfits include a sailor suit, a raincoat and parasol, several dresses and bonnets, and a nightdress and dressing gown set.


Left: Rosie, 1910 -1920, 108.05.0036. Right: Unnamed doll, 1890-1910, 108.05.0044 Gift's of Catharine Robb Whyte, O.C., Banff, 1979.


Another of Catharine's dolls that she held on to into adulthood is similar to Rosie but doesn't

have a known name. She is dressed in a lacy white dress, black boots, and a thick knitted cardigan. Her hair is currently in braids but if she is one of the dolls in the first picture above, it was originally in long ringlets. This doll comes with her ow n tiny chair to sit on. Paper dolls seem to have been another favourite of Catharine's, with a substantial collection still stored in her bedroom in the Whyte Home. These dolls, carefully cut from newspapers and magazines, come with impressive and intricately drawn wardrobes. One set even comes with beautifully detailed French and Italian scenes to place the dolls into. They are in immaculate condition for their age and were

obviously handled with great care by Catharine.


Clockwise from top left: Paper Dolls, 1914-1920, 108.05.0054, 108.05.0080, 108.05.0052, 108.05.0068. Gifts of Catharine Robb Whyte, O.C., Banff 1979.


While the above dolls belonged to Catharine as a child, there are many dolls in the Whyte home

that were collected or inherited as an adult. This group of four Japanese dolls were purchased by

Catharine's grandfather Edward S. Morse and given to her mother Edith Morse Robb, as indicated by a tag on two of them reading Mrs. R. Robb These dolls have porcelain faces, hands, and feet and are dressed in elaborate kimonos. The largest ( has fully moveable arms and legs and has a tag that states the doll maker was "Eitoku sai of Kyoto; Tokyo, Nihon Bashi Doli" who had 10 shops.


Their immaculate condition suggests that these dolls were more decorative than playthings but, like the dolls above, they too have changeable outfits, and have been catalogued as Changing Dolls


From Left: Changing Dolls, 1870-1890. 108.05.0100, 108.05.0099, 108.05.0098, 108.05.0097. Gifts of Catharine Robb Whyte, O.C., Banff 1979.


After moving to Banff, Catharine developed strong relationships with many members of the

Stoney Nakoda. As a result, she acquired (via gift or purchase) an abundance of beadwork, art, and other artefacts. Among these artefacts are a variety of dolls dressed in buckskin beaded with colourful glass beads. Much like the dolls Catharine played with as a child, these dolls also have tiny accessories: beaded headbands, necklaces, purses, and a beaded bunting bag. These dolls represent a confluence of Catharine's interests as a child and adult and illustrate how Catharine's collecting was driven by her passions.


From Left: Papoose Doll, 1960-1970, 108.05.0020. Doll, 1960-1970, 108.05.0016 108.05.0019, 108.05.0017. Gifts of Catharine Robb Whyte, O.C., Banff 1979.


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