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Scrapbook Secrets

Updated: Apr 16

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By Sonia Zyvatkauskas, Digital Imaging Technician

The recently digitized collection of over 160 scrapbooks at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies is a delightful and surprisingly intimate introduction to Banff’s past. Diverse in scope, these time capsules of events and ephemera reveal as much about the interests, desires and worldview of their compilers as the cultural and historic contexts in which they were made.

The most compelling scrapbooks are the multi-dimensional ones, with annotated notes attached to their news articles and photos, or thoughtfully curated collections of personal objects. The pages filled with letters, party invitations and receipts for the purchase of school supplies or train berths lay open the daily lives of their subjects.

The scrapbook of long-time Banff resident, Helen (Fulmer) Wells, is so multi-layered it creates the sensation of time folding over itself, building up memory like geological formations. The tiny hand-written notes beside many of the articles and photos add depth and presence to a collection of items chronicling the history of the Bow Valley, from long gone tourist attractions to the contributions of notable residents.

[Annotated photos of the long-gone Lake Minnewanka Chalet (The Beach House), shortly after it was constructed, along with the family who owned it], [ca. 1950-1970], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Helen Fulmer Wells fonds (M480/1/9)

[One of several pages paying tribute to deceased wildlife artist Nora Drummond Davis],

[ca. 1950-1970], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Helen Fulmer Wells fonds (M480/1/47)

The Edward Oliver Wheeler Education, Military and Club scrapbook is chock-a-block with the sort of personal records that researchers dream of: school report cards, travel documents and dozens of letters, each fleshing out the portrait of the acclaimed mountaineer and president of the Alpine Club of Canada. Thus, we learn that while Wheeler later became famous for his surveying contributions to the 1921 Everest expedition, his high school efforts at drawing left something to be desired. Or that at age 12, he earned the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science’s gratitude for a gift of “three skins of pithon and one chipmunk”. Despite being first in his class in many subjects, Wheeler’s drawing skills had room for improvement. Perhaps there is a story behind the unlikely combination of three snake skins and the pelt of a chipmunk.

[Edward Wheeler’s progress report], 1902, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Edward Oliver Wheeler fonds (M169/II/1/10)

[Certificate], 1910-1933, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Edward Oliver Wheeler fonds (M169/II/1/26)

From the opening page featuring photos of Ulysses LaCasse’s first trip to the Rocky Mountains in 1911, on which he served as camp cook, to the final pages highlighting his service in the Trans-Siberian expedition to combat revolutionary forces in Russia, the LaCasse scrapbook conjures up the image of rugged competence and self-sufficiency. LaCasse wore many hats throughout his life, including guide and park warden and played a pivotal role in the arduous construction of roads and bridges in the Bow Valley. His annotated photos of trail camps and train stations document the development of mountain tourism while images of isolated warden cabins reveal glimpses of the demands of working in the wilderness. Yet there is a tenderness to LaCasse’s inclusion of photos of his wife, Ernestine, at the hot springs, or his daughter Isla, proudly including articles about her skiing career amongst his own.

[Building the road from Sundance to Healy Creek using hoes and a single team of horses], 1927, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Ulysses LaCasse fonds (M90/8/2/12)

[Isla LaCasse’s skiing accomplishments], 1910-1927,

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Ulysses LaCasse fonds (M90/8/2/22)

[LaCasse modelling the trans-Siberian expedition uniform], 1910-1927,

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Ulysses LaCasse fonds (M90/8/2/27)

The compilers of other scrapbooks appear to take a more straightforward approach: accumulating collections of news and events of the day; celebrating professional or personal accomplishments; or using them as a means of displaying personal collections.

Social Life Sketches Scrapbook, 1888 – 1889, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Mollie E. Smith Ross and Peter Murray Ross fonds (M490/1/21)

The comical pencil sketches in Social Life Sketches Scrapbook by the Reverend F. G. Christmas portray rustic mountain life in 1880s Banff, filled with simple dinner parties, outings and church services, and the challenges of courtship in a small town.

World Journey of Chief Walking Buffalo, [ca. 1960],

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, George McLean fonds (M42/2/10)

Chief Walking Buffalo’s world tour in support of the Moral Re-armament Movement took him to Europe, South America and Australia, spreading a message of post-war peace and cooperation.

Bridges Scrapbook, 1909-1931, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Norman Bethune Sanson fonds (M3/30/9)

Naturalist, meteorologist, and museum curator Sanson assembled and meticulously organized postcard collections on the themes of bridges, cathedrals and monuments, as well as other travel related themes in the Bridges Scrapbook.

While the intentionality behind many of the scrapbooks may seem clear on the surface, others contain unexpected juxtapositions that provide fertile ground for speculation.

In the News Clippings Scrapbook who knows why Charlotte Tuerck saved a single recipe for mushroom “risotto” alongside news clippings about living under the threat of atomic attack, and Alberta oil and agriculture. Was it thrillingly exotic at the time? Or perhaps something a neighbour passed along? With its pre-cooked rice, canned mushrooms, diced ham, sausages and shrimp, this bears little resemblance to the dish we know as risotto, but it does speak to emerging culinary influences during the 1960s.

[Recipe] News Clippings Scrapbook, [ca.1960], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Charlotte Tuerck fonds (M116/2/60/28)

And why is there an ad for soap pasted into Harry Brett’s collection of early Christmas cards? Was it the graphic that was attractive? Or perhaps it was a way to remember a special Christmas present? Morse’s mottled soap, manufactured in Toronto, may have been a gift to a member of the Brett family.

[Soap ad], [ca. 1920], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Brett family fonds (M1/32/24)

[Christmas cards], [ca. 1920], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Brett family fonds (M1/32/25)

This is, of course, part of the seductive charm of the medium, drawing you into the lives of the creators almost imperceptibly, leaving you with more questions than answers in some cases, but always a little bit wiser for having opened their pages.

You can access the scrapbooks here, where each scrapbook can either be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF.

Digitization of 160 scrapbooks for preservation and increased access was made possible by Library and Archives Canada funding through the Digital Heritage Communities Program Grant.

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

T: 1 403 762 2291   

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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