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Holiday 1909: photo journal gives snapshot of North Shore mountaineering at turn of the 20th century

Colourful journal entries and stunningly preserved photography show us what it was like to climb to the Seymour Creek headwaters 113 years ago

Eight pounds of butter, five cans of milk, 20 pounds of sugar, 25 pounds of flour, a 10-pound ham and a pie. Not exactly items you’d expect to see on a provisions list for a hiking expedition today.

But 113 years ago, that’s what four members of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club stuffed in 50-pound packs for their two-week summer holiday up into the headwaters of Seymour Creek.

Their mission: to obtain points for mapping the district, journey the divide between the Seymour and Squamish Valleys by way of a miners’ trail to the Vancouver Group Copper Mine, and return over the mountain ranges – if possible.

The party consisted of Fred Perry, Billy Gray, Charles Macdonald and Charles “Chappy” Chapman, the latter who journaled the expedition in detail.

Many years later, Chappy’s granddaughter, Lid Hawkins, found his journal at the bottom of an inherited bookcase, and paired it with a rich catalogue of photographs that the adventurers took no small effort to capture and preserve. But preserved they are, and lovingly compiled by Hawkins into a book titled Holiday 1909, which was published last year.

On Tuesday (Oct. 11), she’s hosting an author’s talk at North Vancouver City Library, where she’ll showcase photography from the book and answer questions.

Hawkins describes Holiday as a unique, personal account. “The shopping list really makes you think about what it was like to climb back then,” she said.

The bit about the pie, which Gray is photographed carrying by hand as they set out on July 24, 1909, is one of Hawkins’s favourite slices of history from the journals.

“One of our lady friends kindly presented us with a pie as we were leaving,” Chappy wrote. “Perry ungallantly refused to accept it, but Billy brought it along and a very awkward present it proved … for it was necessary to carry it in the hand.”

Hawkins said, “I can imagine that must have been pretty funny.”

Part of what makes her edited volume so captivating now is the photographs of their journey, most of them taken in areas that hikers continue to frequent in the present day. To take them, Chappy and his crew packed two large-format cameras, one of which Hawkins still has: a Kodak No. 4, weighing about seven pounds.

Despite the often damp conditions, the mountaineers had to keep all the equipment, film and negatives dry. This feat is even more impressive, considering the persistent rain and fog on the first several days of the trip, with minimal shelter.

At one point, the mosquitos were so bad that they buzzed into the hikers’ dreams: “Mac had apparently been suffering from nightmare for he asserted that the mosquitos sat on logs and barked at him all night.”

En route to the headwaters, they reached the copper mine at 2,400 feet of elevation, and a group of men living in the tents and dilapidated buildings they called Jungle Town.

Then, on the sixth day of their journey, they reached Loch Lomond at the headwaters of Seymour Creek, surrounded by the snow-capped crest of the mountain range. They summited Loch Lomond head and from there looked out on Vulcan’s Valley, The Sisters (now known as Sky Pilot), Shadow Peak and Monte Rosa.

After several days exploring, they made their way along the mountain ridges to Mount Cathedral, eventually making their way into Lynn Valley and back down to Lynn Creek.

Hawkins said Chappy was known to quote lengths of Shakespeare from memory, write spoof plays as well as accounts of B.C. Mountaineering Club events for The Province in the teen years of the 20th century. The club began publishing BC Mountaineer in 1923, which was printed by Chapman & Warwick until the 1960s.

BC Mountaineer has its 100th anniversary issue coming in March 2023. Hawkins’s brother, Hugh Kellas will have an article in that issue about the 114 years their family have been members of the club.

Hawkins said it was through association with the press that Chappy, with others, were able to persuade the B.C. government to set aside the area around Mount Garibaldi as a reserve in 1920 and seven years later a provincial park, a treasure many people enjoy today.

Holiday 1909 can be bought at Monova: Museum of North Vancouver and on Hawkins’s website for $27.95.

Holiday 1909 presentation

When: Tuesday, Oct. 11, 10-11:30 a.m.

Where: North Vancouver City Library

Cost: Free. Registration required