Visionaries of the West – Mary Schaffer Warren

 

Mary Schäffer with horse, between 1907-1911, Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Mary Schäffer fonds (V527/ps-151), whyte.org.

Mary Schaffer Warren – Hunter of Peace
By Debbie MacRae

It was the spring of 1908, when a small party of six ascended a ridge of mountains at 8,750 feet, over what is now known as Mount Unwin, to view beautiful Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park, Alberta – the first white persons ever to have witnessed its allure.

Mary Schaffer, her female companion, Mollie Adams, a botanist, three guides, 22 horses, and a dog, were on a quest to locate the mythical lake spoken of by the Stoney Indian Band of Morley, most of whom had never seen it themselves.

Depicted in poetic post-card perfection, Lake Maligne now presents on the covers of travel magazines and brochures – luring tourists to shores once guarded sacredly only by the native hunter. Mary, with her drawings, her camera, and her colored slides, opened the world that lay “away from civilization… lost so far as the world was concerned, in a sea of mountains to the north.”

The paternal branches of her family tree traced back to 1682, as Quaker refugees who had fled from Britain to America, having suffered the persecution of their religious beliefs. British society rejected them and they journeyed with their children to pursue a new start along Pennsylvania’s Ridley Creek.

Each of Mary’s parents married “outsiders”, and their unconventionality and determination formed a foundation of strength for their girl-child, traits, which coupled with her curiosity and rebellious nature, would carry her through the many trials she would suffer in her lifetime.

From a privileged upper-middle-class Quaker family life, Mary received a strong formal education, with enriched extracurricular classes in flower painting, geology, minerology, archaeology, sciences, botany, and natural history. Consequently, she developed strong interest and respect for nature, the indigenous people of North America, and their culture.

After eaves-dropping on a particularly heart-wrenching story told by her “Cousin Jim” in the US army, Mary learned of the advancing tide of white settlement, and the carnage wrought by the removal of western native populations from their land. He spoke of a baby peeping out from under the body of its fallen mother and her horror was so profound, she cried out, and was discovered, and sent to her room. Her introspection led to a love of the native people and the friendship which would eventually lead her to explore the Rocky Mountains on horseback, year after year.

Mary’s first opportunity to explore the “wild west” came when she was 14-years-old. Her father, remembering his own first rail travel at the age of eight, endeavoured to provide his daughter the same experience – across the great plains. Eager to explore the wild and free lifestyle of the western frontier, and its intriguing indigenous populations, Mary was dismayed and saddened to witness instead, the condescension and mistreatment of her “friends.” Yet even at a very young age, she was able to convey a message of affection, compassion and understanding for a very misunderstood race of people.

In 1880, on a steamer trip she made to the Alaskan coast, she explored Native settlements at every opportunity, even against the counsel of her chaperone. Her courage and acceptance led to a lifelong intrigue and fascination with the indigenous lifestyle and she embraced the people with an open heart and mind.

Mary Schaffer’s buckskin shirt, donated to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

As a young adult, she expanded her travel after the 1885 completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. She would be accompanied by a chaperone, Dr. Charles Schaffer, who would later become her husband, despite being 23 years her senior. As a physician, and an avid scientist, her husband was devoted to the natural sciences, and in 1889, Mary agreed to accompany her new husband to a scientific gathering in Toronto. On her arrival, she was enthralled by a series of images of Lake Louise, which captivated her imagination. She had to travel there, and only a few short months later she would once again accompany her husband on her first visit to Canada’s wild west.

On that trip she witnessed vestiges of Colonel Wolseley’s boats, abandoned after the 1869 Riel Rebellion. She met Sitting Bull’s brother and his wife, and sought permission to take his picture. She was rebuffed by his request for money, and turned away – regretting her missed opportunity later.

Her first glimpse of the mountains would be from the tiny railway station at Gleichen, Alberta at 4:00 a.m. and that first impression would be indelibly carved in her mind for the rest of her life.

Mary would spend the next several years until her husband’s death, assisting him with his scientific research; studying plants, identifying, pressing, drying, painting, and photographing rare and beautiful botanical specimens. She became known as the “painter of slides,” and was eventually granted a life membership in the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, despite threats of strong opposition due to her gender. At one point, she travelled with Dr. Schaffer on the top of a boxcar, forty miles, to camp outdoors on the shores of Lake Louise!

In 1903, Mary met Sir James Hector, surgeon to the famous Palliser Expedition. Sadly, he would return immediately to his home in New Zealand, after the death of his son to appendicitis. Within a few short months, she too, would lose her mother, her husband, and her father. Mary’s life would plunge into despair; Philadelphia society would shun her; her family would take advantage of her. She would learn the “bitter lesson, to count the pennies, to lean on no one, and make the best of crumbling fortunes.”

But the brief encounter with Sir Hector stimulated Mary to seek solace in the mountains, their majesty and their mystery. She resolved to compose and illustrate the Guide to the Flora of the Canadian Rockies that she and her husband had dreamt about but never started. And so she returned to Lake Louise, entrusted to the care of a young Boer war veteran and guide, by the name of Billy Warren. Under his guidance, she developed the outdoor skills required to complete her mission, and in so doing, became the first non-aboriginal woman to explore the areas encompassed by Banff, Yoho, and Jasper National parks.

A picture of Mary Schaffer-Warren is in her book entitled A Hunter of Peace. The picture  was taken by her friend Mollie Adams in 1907.  It says Moore family fonds (V439/PS-2) WMCR – which references the second edition of A Hunter of Peace with illustrations from photographs by the author and by Mary W. Adams and others – as referenced in the book available at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies (WMCR).

In 1911, the Canadian government approached Mary to survey Maligne Lake, a task previously assigned only to men. Her accomplishment as an artist, photographer and writer stood her in good stead. Her survey resulted in the inclusion of Maligne Lake within the confines of Jasper National Park.

Despite being 20 years his senior, Mary would eventually marry her guide and mentor, Billy Warren, to whom she always referred as “Chief,” out of respect for his skills as an outdoorsman. He would build her a home in Banff, which stands to this day as a symbol of the respect she garnered as an accomplished “Mountain Woman,” the name given her by the Stoney people.

In an excerpt of a letter to Raymond Zillmer of Milwaukee from Mary [Schaffer] Warren, on April 12, 1928, she wrote:

“No one may know I went among those hills with a broken heart and only on the high places could I learn that I and mine were very close together. We dare not tell those beautiful thoughts, they like to say ‘explorer’ of me, no, only a hunter of peace. I found it.”

 

Visionaries of the West – The Famous Five

 

(From L to R): Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Irene Parlby and Henrietta Edwards – the Famous Five.

By Debbie MacRae

Welcome to our inaugural blog, honoring the Trail Blazers of our past. The Wild West has an infamous history synonymous with cowboys, horses, daring courage, conflict, outlaws, law-makers and law-breakers. Woven into this tapestry of the “wild” are many intriguing characters. Many men and equally intriguing, women of the west, forged through many barriers to create the country of Canada we now call home.

Interestingly enough, it was only 90 years ago that women in Canada were not considered to be “persons.” This is why we kick off our Trail Blazers blog segment with a tribute to the Famous Five (also called “The Valiant Five”) – a group of Canadian women’s rights activists that included Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby.

In 1917, the Supreme Court of Alberta ruled that women were persons, but when Emily Murphy put her name forward as a candidate for Canadian Senator, the Canadian Prime Minister at the time, Robert Borden, rejected a petition of nearly 500,000 Canadians, stating he could not, on the basis of an 1876 British common law ruling that stated that “women were eligible for pains and penalties, but not rights and privileges.”

Enter the Famous Five. It took another ten years but on August 27, 1927, Emily Murphy asked four other prominent Alberta women to join her in a petition to the federal government on the issue of women’s status. Irene Parlby, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, and Henrietta Muir Edwards joined Emily at her house for tea. That site would later become part of the campus of the University of Alberta.

The question posed was: Does the word “Persons” in section 24 of the British North America Act, 1867, include female persons? The matter became known as the “Persons” Case.

It was debated on March 14, 1928, with the Supreme Court of Canada eventually ruling that women were not “qualified persons” as it related to Section 24 of the BNA Act. Mary Ellen Smith (the first woman to ever be elected to legislature in British Columbia), reacted to the news by saying, “The iron dropped into the souls of women in Canada when we heard that it took a man to decree that his mother was not a person.”

As found on: www.azquotes.com.

The Famous Five, undaunted, appealed to the Privy Council in England, the only authority higher than the Supreme Court of Canada. On October 18, 1929, only 88 years ago, Lord Sankey arrived to a packed London courtroom to declare that women were indeed persons and, as a result, could become Senators. He went on further to state, “The exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours.”

In 1921, Irene Parlby was elected to the Alberta Legislature for the riding of Lacombe, holding the riding for 14 years. Appointed as minister without portfolio, she was the first woman Cabinet minister in Alberta. She would become the first president of the United Farm Women of Alberta, which organization would initiate changes in legislation affecting credit for young farmers and ranchers, initiate mothers’ allowances and widows’ pensions for farmers and ranchers, and develop provincial departments of health, municipal hospitals, Farm Young People’s week at the U of A, and Farm Women’s Week at Olds Agricultural College, not to mention the first Egg and Poultry Pool established in Canada.

Henrietta Muir Edwards was an artist as well as a legal expert. Women and men alike often came to her for help with legal issues affecting women and children. In 1893, she helped found the National Council of Women of Canada (NCWC) — an organization that continues, to this day, to work to improve the quality of life for women, families and society. In addition to her work with the NCWC, she published Canada’s first women’s magazine and established the Canadian YWCA.

Nellie McClung was active in many organizations. She founded the Winnipeg Political Equality League and the Federated Women’s Institutes of Canada—”the largest adult education movement in Canada”—and the Women’s Institute of Edmonton, of which she was the first president. She was active in the Canadian Authors’ Association, the Canadian Women’s Press Club, the Methodist Church of Canada, the Calgary Women’s Literary Club, among others.

She sat as a Liberal member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta from 1921 to 1926, in opposition to the government of the United Farmers of Alberta. Her opportunity to press for women’s rights was limited at this time because women were not taken seriously.

Louise McKinney was a Canadian politician and women’s rights activist from Alberta, Canada. She was the first woman sworn into the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and the first woman elected to a legislature in the British Empire. She served in the Alberta legislature from 1917 to 1921 as a member of the Non-Partisan League. (It was later that she became one of the Famous Five). A former schoolteacher and temperance organizer, she came to Alberta in 1903 as a homesteader.

Emily Murphy was a Canadian women’s rights activist, jurist, and author. In 1916, she became the first female magistrate in Canada, and in the British Empire.

With the Famous Five, we introduce to you to a compilation of stories, intrigue, courage and historical fact woven by the captivating characters of our western past in our Trail Blazers feature.

Unveiling of a plaque commemorating the Famous Five, June 11, 1938. (Front row, L–R): Muir Edwards, daughter-in-law of Henrietta Muir Edwards; J. C. Kenwood, daughter of Judge Emily Murphy; Mackenzie King; Nellie McClung. (Rear row, L–R): Senators Iva Campbell Fallis, Cairine Wilson.