In the footsteps of Whistler's pioneering female mountaineers

Whistler's history is full of tough, resourceful, and fearless pioneer women such as Myrtle Phillip, but did you know that this adventurous spirit also helped many contemporary women to join the male-dominated world of mountaineering? We did some digging in the archives to find stories of women's trekking achievements as they fought against the limitations society placed on them during the early 20th century.

In the 1920s and 30s the Alpine Club of Canada boasted a membership of 40 per cent women motivated by prominent female mountaineers such as Elizabeth Parker (the co-founder of the Alpine Club of Canada) and Margaret Fleming (the first female editor of the Canadian Alpine Journal). However, women who ventured into the mountains still faced social prejudice and had many male colleagues doubting their abilities.

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Today Don and Phyllis Munday are well known legends of BC mountaineering. Early in their careers, fellow members of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club were more skeptical about Phyllis' ability to keep up. As soon as members witnessed Phyllis in action, during the annual summer club camps in what is now Garibaldi Park, any questions about Phyllis' ability were completely forgotten

Even if her skills were respected while on the mountain, Phyllis and other female climbers had to contend with conservative expectations of how women were supposed to act and dress. When climbing peaks closer to Vancouver, Phyllis recalled having to ditch long skirts and shoes worn en-route in favour of nailed hiking boots and bloomers. Female climbers would often stash their skirts by the trailheads and collect them on the way back down. If they couldn't find them they would not be allowed back on the steamship, because their athletic pants were considered indecent.

Though Don Munday received a great deal of press and publishing contracts, it was certain that Phyllis was a big part in their adventuring success. Their legacy is extremely important to the Whistler area as they can claim the first ascent of many local mountains and the first ascent and naming of Blackcomb and Overlord in 1923.

The museum was very excited to recently receive a number of photo albums that belonged to another well-known mountaineering couple: Eric and Emmie Brooks. Eric was a lifelong member of the Alpine Club of Canada and served as president from 1941 to 1947. Though we were unable to find much written about Emmie's participation in the club, it is clear from the photos that she and other women were present every step of the way.

As girls and women today participate fully on the trails and climbs of the local mountains they should be proud to walk in the footsteps of these adventurous women who were invaluable to our history.

Lisa Patrick is the summer collections assistant at the Whistler Museum and Archives Society.

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