One of my favourite photo collections in the Whistler archives is that of Cliff Fenner. Fenner was born in 1909 in England where he built a solid career in the timber industry. After helping manage and maintain the crucial flow of commodities for the allied war effort, in 1947 he moved to Vancouver. He was attracted to Canada by the mountains that he had read about. He was a member of the Alpine Club of Great Britain and had had an interest in mountaineering since childhood when, at six years old, he borrowed the family clothesline and ventured out to climb the chalk cliffs near where he lived. In Canada, he bounced around a few logging camps then joined the BC Forest Service in 1949 with his first assignment to help run Mount Seymour Park. In 1953 he was offered a position as the first park supervisor for Garibaldi Provincial Park when the BC Forest Service took over the park.
Fenner’s job mainly consisted of hiking around Garibaldi’s vast mountainscapes, observing wildlife, leading trail crews and advising on the park’s development. Dream job, anyone?
He was assisted by two park rangers, plus work crews and youth-training crews to clear trails in the summer. His goal was to turn Garibaldi Park into an attraction for thousands of visitors rather than "the few hundred hardy souls who venture into the park's wilderness each year." Of course, this was in the days when there wasn't even a highway to Squamish — a major barrier to accessibility.
A year into his warden career, Fenner described this twist in his life’s path in a way that’s easy to relate to today:
“I have always loved the outdoors. I’ve had city jobs, of course. Even thought about building up my own business, but I’d been exposed to too much good, fresh air.”
Lucky for us, Fenner was more than capable behind the lens; after retiring from the park service he even made his living as a travel photographer and writer. Today our archives hold an extensive collection of his photos taken over more than two decades amongst the Coast Mountains.
Sarah Drewery is the executive director of the Whistler Museum.