Carole Harmon Editions

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A Biographical Portrait of Byron Harmon


by BART ROBINSON

When a twenty-seven-year-old itinerant photographer named Byron Harmon left a Canadian Pacific Railway coach at Banff, Northwest Territories, in 1903, he stepped into the right place at the right time.

He also stepped into a spot of extreme contrasts: a small, rough-hewn village, in the midst of a desolate mountain wilderness, which sported five first-class hotels and as bizarre an assortment of people as could be imagined. Pack-train outfitters in soiled chaps and beaten, wide-brimmed hats, stocky European alpinists in knickers and clunky nailed boots, and men and women of almost every nationality and race, all dressed in the latest fashions of their respective countries, intermingled in the short length of the dusty main street.

Banff, like the mountains that gave it birth, was midway between the era of earliest exploration and the age of mass commercialism. The David Thompsons and the Reverend Robert Rundles had come and gone, but the multitudes of highly mobile middle-class sightseers racing through the mountains at ever-increasing speed and in ever-increasing numbers had yet to arrive.

The Canadian Rockies in 1903 offered a playground for the not-so-idle rich and for climbers from England and Europe seeking first ascents comparable to those that had been exhausted in the Alps a decade earlier. They found new tracts of wilderness that had been charted and measured only in the most cursory manner by cartographers and scientists. Those who were