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The Wandering Whytes: Hawaii

By Kayla Cazes, Marketing and Communications Manager


Back to The Cairn

1933 – 1934

This new blog series,The Wandering Whytes will take us on a journey of Peter and Catharine Whyte's extensive travels. Deep in the Archives and Library of the Whyte Museum, you will find the letters of Catharine Robb Whyte. As an avid letter writer, many of their trips and activities were recorded in great detail. Her words seem to come alive as she describes their experiences, the people they met, and the cultures they immersed themselves in. Follow us as we journey around the globe based on the detailed descriptions of Catharine's letters.



Catharine Robb Whyte (1906–1979, Canadian), Hawaii, 1933-1934, oil on canvas, 

12.6 x 17.8 c.m., Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, WyC.01.020 

On Friday, October 27, 1933, Peter and Catharine boarded the SS Lurline in San Francisco, California, bound for Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii. Built in 1931/32, the SS Lurline was a part of the Matson Line, which served the Pacific Ocean. Matson, also owned the popular Moana Hotel and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii. 


[SS Lurline in Honolulu harbour, Hawaii Album], [1933],

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/1/PD/5/1/3) 



[Catharine in Hawaii, Hawaii Album], [1933], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/1/PD/5/61)




Peter Whyte (1905–1966, Canadian),Honolulu, Hawaii, 1934, oil on canvas, 27.5 x 35 c.m., Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, WyP.01.045 

Arriving in Honolulu on November 2, 1933, Peter and Catharine would check into the Moana Hotel in Waikiki. She would write to her mother on November 4th, 

“Without a doubt this is the loveliest spot you ever saw and much to my surprise I haven’t been too hot yet.” 

[Honolulu, Hawaii, Hawaii Album], [1933], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/PD//5/29/5) 

Within a few days of being in Honolulu, Catharine stated, “. . .everyone is so happy and friendly, you can’t help but feel friendly too.” This characteristic of Catharine and Peter to go into the community and culture that surrounded them is a continuous theme throughout their travels. They wanted to get to the heart of the places they visited, beyond the typical tourist spots.



[Catharine and unknown child in Honolulu, Hawaii, Hawaii Album],

[1933], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/1/PD/5/59)

Peter and Catharine would stay in Honolulu for a few weeks. During this time, they were able to explore their surroundings. By engaging with the community they were able to find unique areas to paint the landscape. 



Peter Whyte (1905–1966, Canadian), 

Sisal, Wilhililina, Rise, Honolulu,

 1934, oil on masonite, 27.5 x 35 c.m., 

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, WyP.01.033 

Catharine aptly stated that, 

“Honolulu is as lovely as ever, the weather, perfect with maybe an occasional shower, the sunsets are the most beautiful [I] have ever seen and last nearly an hour as a rule. The sun sinks into the Pacific and there is an orange glow, the light gradually seems to drop…” 

Peter Whyte (1905–1966, Canadian),Surf, Hanalei, Hawaii, 1933, oil on canvas, 27.5 x 35 c.m.,Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, WyP.01.029 


[Kauai], [1933], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/1/PD/5/49)

By Sunday, November 19, 1933, the couple had left Honolulu, Oahu and were settled into a small cottage in Hanalei on the island of Kauai. In Catharine’s letters she speaks about how “everyone [said] it’s the loveliest island of all but it’s very quiet which is what we want for painting.”


Below are images of the small cottage they rented and the vehicle they purchased to explore the island. 

[Cottage rental and vehicle, Hanalei, Kauai], [1933], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/1/PD/5/33/1-2)


[Cottage rental, Hanalei, Kauai], [1933], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/1/PD/5/33/3-4)


On the small island of Kauai, Peter and Catharine found rhythm and routine. They focused hard on sketching and painting their surroundings–driving their car to remote villages and surrounding fields around the island. Catharine stated that “life goes on very pleasantly for us, it’s an ideal place to concentrate in…I don’t feel too lazy, and no one bothers us as all.” 



[Catharine on beach], [1933], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/1/PD/5/53)

Through this time, they were able to produce many sketches and paintings, which are currently held in our art and heritage collections. 


Peter Whyte (1905–1966, Canadian),Lihue Cane Fields, Kauai, Hawaii  1934, oil on canvas, 27.5 x 35 c.m., Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, WyP.01.037 

Catharine describes the difficulties of painting the vibrancy of Hawaii to her mother:

“You ask about the painting, on the whole it is going very well. That is/we are probably painting [more] than ever before but feel the pictures are much worse. We get awfully discouraged but shan’t give up. The colour is all blue and green. After rain a weird sort of green. The blue softer than the Rockies, the conditions ideal and no one bothers us and we are free to do as we like...We could be quite social but are avoiding it as much as possible in order [...] to paint.”


Peter Whyte (1905–1966, Canadian),Sugar Cane Fields, Kauai, 1934, oil on canvas, 27.5 x 35 c.m., Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, WyP.01.039 

Throughout Catharine’s letters she describes significant events in passing such as the December 2, 1933 volcanic eruption of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Known as one of the world’s largest volcanoes, it also holds the record for being the tallest. Measuring from the base of the volcano on the sea floor to the summit it is over 33,000 feet high. Catharine recalls this event by mentioning briefly how the sunlight was blocked out and how they weren’t too worried about it. 




After being in Hanalei for almost a month, the couple chose to move to the opposite side of Kauai from Hanalei to Koloa. By this time, they described their painting as “stagnant” and that they needed a “new eye”. On this move, we truly get a sense of how many items they carried dedicated to painting alone. From sketch boxes, to canvases, paints, tools and soaps they needed a significant number of supplies to complete sketches and paintings. 


[Koloa, Kauai, Hawaii], [1933], Whyte Museum of the Canadian

Rockies, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/1/PD/5/45)



By Christmas 1933, the couple was back in Honolulu. They stayed in a small bungalow at the Moana-Seaside Hotel.


[Moana-Seaside Hotel, Honolulu, Oahu letterhead],

[1934], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (M36)


Luggage Travel Sticker, [Moana-Seaside Hotel and Bungalows, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu],

[1925-1934], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 103.08.0382

By February 1934, the Whytes welcomed the Moore's and Rungius’ to Honolulu for a visit. Catharine described how pleased they were to have visitors. She also went briefly into detail of their time with Carl Rungius and the advice that he gave them in regard to painting the landscape.



[Left to Right – Edmee Moore, [Possibly Louise Fulda Rungius], Catharine Robb Whyte in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii], [1934], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/PD/5/65/001)



[Left to Right – Philip Moore, Peter Whyte, Catharine Robb Whyte and [Possibly Louise Fulda Rungius] in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii], [1934], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/PD/5/65/001)

By mid-March 1934, it was decided that Peter and Catharine would continue their travels by going to Japan. On March 16, they boarded the Canadian Pacific ship, Empress of Japan.



Letter to Mother, Canadian Pacific Steamlines

R.M.S. “Empress of Japan”, March 1934,

M36/94


Arriving in Japan, Catharine wrote to her mother:

“Here we are and I can hardly believe it even yet, and why in the devil you and Pete didn’t get me here before now I can’t imagine. I wouldn’t miss the little I’ve seen already for anything.”

[Japan Album], [1934-1936], Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies,

Peter and Catharine Whyte fonds (V683/III/A/PD/6/77/001)

Their ability to engage themselves came from their willingness to truly experience a place and its people. More significantly, they applied themselves with taking the time to enjoy and relish in the seemingly insignificant moments. These moments are scattered heavily throughout Catharine’s letters. By writing them down and passing them on we can see how truly special they were to her. 


Tune in for our next blog on the wanderings of the Whytes!


Next stop... Japan!


Back to The Cairn

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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