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Rabbit Holes in the Archives

Updated: Feb 15, 2019

A Brief Look at the Dan and Mary McCowan fonds


By Lindsay Stokalko, Reference Archivist/Librarian


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Held within the Archives and Library holdings at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies are an endless array of subjects to write about. Over the past several days I’ve been working on rehousing some black and white negatives which has led me down numerous rabbit holes of interesting topics – the first being enacting measures to protect and prevent damage and deterioration of archival materials through proper storage, and careful handling.


Figure 1 – Box of negatives requiring rehousing – the Dan and Mary McCowan fonds (V408/NA)




To ensure that archival materials such as these negatives will be preserved for future generations, rehousing them into acid free folders and archival standards boxes will ensure their life will be extended.


To begin this project my first steps were to remove the negatives from the original envelopes, whose paper make up, adhesives and ink react over time with the emulsion on negatives, causing long-term preservation issues. These negatives were assigned individual item numbers, and the information written or typed on the original envelope was transferred to the new acid free envelope. There are thousands of dated photographic negatives of “Birds” (V408/NA2) taken in Western Canada, as well as other negatives of wildlife including “Goats” (V408/NA10) and “Insects” (V408/NA11), as well as “Trees” (V408/NA19) and “Weather” (V408/NA18) – all requiring rehousing and item numbers.



Figure 2 (left) – Transferring negatives and associated information from original envelopes to acid-free envelopes and assigning individual item numbers to aid in access and digitization, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Dan and Mary McCowan fonds (V408/NA2/47/1).


Figure 3 (right) – Original envelope for “10-121 – Nighthawk on Roadway – Sept 2, 1924”, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Dan and Mary McCowan fonds (V408/NA2/49/1)


Figure 4 – Negative in envelope for “10-121 – Nighthawk on Roadway – Sept 2, 1924”, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Dan and Mary McCowan fonds (V408/NA2/49/1)


Figure 5 - Positive scan of “10-121 – Nighthawk on Roadway – Sept 2, 1924”, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Dan and Mary McCowan fonds (V408/NA2/49/1).

These negatives are a part of the Dan and Mary McCowan fonds (V408/M55), which date from the early 1910s to the 1940s. Dan McCowan was an avid naturalist and writer who travelled widely with Mary (Fee) McCowan – a teacher, lecturing on the natural environment. He later worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway promoting the scenic beauty of the mountains and was made a Fellow of the Royal Zoological Society in 1936, and following this, wrote and hosted talks on CBC on the topic of natural history. He wrote six books (all of which we hold copies of in the library) and numerous articles and periodicals. You can search Dan and Mary McCowan in the Archives and Library holdings where you can also find descriptions of interesting archival materials such as:

• Notebook belonging to Dan McCowan filled with fascinating stories and observations

• Copies of Mary McCowan’s diary which date from 1926 to 1957

• Photographs of Banff residents such as the twice aforementioned Leonard Leacock


Figure 6 – Records book with inscription “This book containing notes on natural history etc. is the property of Dan McCowan, Banff” – pages 30 and 31 dated from March and April 1924, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Dan and Mary McCowan fonds (M55/4)



Figure 7 – Page from Mary McCowan’s diary – dated August 30, 1938, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Dan and Mary McCowan fonds (M55/32)














Figure 8 - 113 Len Leacock, guide, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Dan and Mary McCowan fonds (V408/I/C/i/NA14/113)

The Archives & Library also holds the Leonard Leacock fonds (M372 / S24 / V353), but that’s another rabbit hole for another time.


Check out this great post by the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives from some excellent tips on how to best use reference services at archival institutions, then come in to explore your own research rabbit holes at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies Archives & Library – appointments are preferred and recommended. You can reach us at archives@whyte.org .


Figure 9 – [Baby rabbits], 1895, 1910, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Mary Schäffer fonds (V527/II/A/ps1-415).

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

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E: info [at] whyte.org

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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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