The Mystery of P. R. Lockie
By Kate Riordon, Young Canada Works Archive and Library Assistant
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a picture is worth a thousand words. I know it’s a phrase we’ve heard countless times, and that most of the time there is a thousand-word story behind the picture and someone around who can tell it to you, but sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes you’re given a collection of photographs—beautifully composed, meticulously printed, personally inscribed with a greeting or a name—and that’s all you have. 26 photos in a manila folder and the name P. R. Lockie signed on them.
That is exactly what I had when I was given my first digitization project as the Young Canada Works Archival Assistant here in the Whyte Museum Archives and Library. As a life-long resident of Banff, being able to work in the Archives and have unlimited access to this weird and wonderful town’s history is a dream come true. As someone with a (possibly unhealthy) fascination with mysterious mountain figures, I knew that whoever P. R. Lockie turned out to be, I would like him.
As far as first assignments go, this was not a daunting one; a thin folder with relatively small photographs inside, most of which are homemade “Seasons Greetings!” cards from the mid-1900s, some in colour, but the majority in black and white. Despite a background in Canadian history and a casual acquaintance with using archival materials for primary research in university, I had no previous experience with the actual archival process and all of its rules. This little folder was the perfect chance to get my feet wet.
Scanning the images to the computer is not an overly difficult process once you get the hang of it, but it is time consuming. However, this meant there was ample opportunity to obsess over those two initials, P. R., and who exactly they belonged to. The Archives and Library database told me that these pictures were all we had of Lockie’s, there are no papers or letters that accompanied them so there were no other folders I could go looking for. I did have a few clues though: the Archival staff member who processed the file when it was first received in 2006 noted that he was born in England in 1900, came to Canada sometime around the 1920s, and seemed to have at least lived in or around Powell River, British Columbia, until his death in 1976.
But who was P. R. Lockie? His pictures told me he loved the mountains, that much was clear. He may not have been a professionally trained photographer, but the dates he wrote on some of the images showed that it was a hobby he cultivated for decades. There were often people in his photos, especially the winter ones, but were those people clients he was guiding or his friends and family? Lockie often wrote the names of peaks or passes on his pictures, sometimes even including elevations, which strikes me as being more for the benefit of the photos’ recipient than his own. No matter what minor clues I could glean from simply looking at the pictures Lockie took, none of them told me what I really wanted to know: his first name.
One of the more curious photos, in my opinion, these are folded into a little book with details written on the backs. Why? No idea.
Roger’s Pass, 1963, P. R. Lockie, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, P. R. Lockie fonds (V111/PA-18 – PA-18/back)
Having exhausted the resources available to me in-house, I turned to the great solver of mysteries, the best Watson stand-in of the 21st century: Google. Simply searching the name I had yielded very few results, but a pattern did begin to develop in that he seemed linked to the Powell River area and more generally to mountaineering in British Columbia. Amateur climbing blogs and even YouTube videos unveiled that a peak near Powell Lake was named after him when Lockie and one B. Stenberg first summited it in 1952.
Hoping that, like at the Whyte Museum, more of Lockie’s files and photos were still in the process of being digitized for public use, I reached out to both the Powell River Historical Museum & Archive and to the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) for any hints at who my mystery man might be. Within a few hours I had my answer—finally a break in the case!
Glenn Woodsworth, a 60-year active member of the BCMC, kindly responded to my plea for help in the most extraordinary way; he knew Lockie personally, and hiked with him at Lake O’Hara in the 1960s. Just like that, P. R. became Percival Robert. Part of the reason why I had such a hard time finding him online was because almost everyone in Powell River called him either by his initials or his last name, never by Percival or Percy.
Climbing, hiking, and photography were his passions and hobbies that Lockie undertook in his free time. He worked as a draftsman for the Powell River Company’s pulp and paper mill and as a local lifeguard for at least 30 years. Like so many who are drawn to the great outdoors for work and play, he utilized every opportunity to explore the mountains, bounding off through the Selkirk, Coastal, and Rocky Mountain ranges with his friends at all times of the year because that was where he loved to be. The dates inscribed on his pictures told me that hiking, climbing, snowshoeing, and photography were activities he carried well into his 60s, but I like to think that he was able to keep at them for at least a little longer.
Percy Robert Lockie’s photographs helped me get my head around the tricks of my new trade, but more importantly, there is now at least a chapter’s worth of story behind these pictures, with room for more.