A Life In The Wilderness

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say, ‘because mountains, at least, stand still.’

With his health much improved, he began to pursue the alpine pastimes of the day-hiking, riding, and climbing- but always carrying the heavy, awkward photographic equipment of the early 1900s: 4” x 5” and 5” x 7” view cameras (and, after 1910, a movie camera), wooden tripods, changing bag, extra film packs, and glass plates.

At the turn of the century Banff was a centre for mountain climbing, perhaps even more than it is today, because of the large number of unnamed and unclimbed peaks in the immediate vicinity. As a Victorian sport, climbing had no equal, and with all the great peaks of Europe conquered by the 188os, alpinists turned their alpenstocks toward the unexplored regions of Canada. The CPR, not missing a trick, imported European climbing guides to escort tourists and alpinists to the summits of the Rockies and Selkirks, and such international figures as Edward Whymper of the Matterhorn became familiar faces in the Banff environs.

With so much activity in the area, it was only a matter of time before the sport became formally organized, and in March 1900 the Alpine Club of Canada was founded. After three years in the mountains, Harmon had become such an ardent alpinist and Rockies booster that he became a charter member of the Club and its official photographer, eager to use his skills to fulfil the dictates of the Club’s charter, which called, among other things, for ‘the cultivation of art in relation to mountain scenery’ and ‘the exploration and study of Canada’s alpine tracts; and, with that in mind, . . . [the gathering of] ... literary material and photographs for publication.’

The major event of the ACC’s year was its climbing camp, held each year at a different spot in either the Rockies or Selkirks, featuring a week of exploring, hiking, and climbing. For most members it meant a moderately priced vacation in the mountains (all extended travel at that time was by pack train, an
expensive proposition); for Harmon it meant a priceless opportunity to expand both his photographic and alpine experiences, and he rarely missed a summer camp during his early years of ACC involvement.”

Harmon’s work with the Alpine Club was critically important to his career because it opened up not only new territory for him but also important channels for recognition of his work. The Canadian Alpine Journal, distributed to members across North America and abroad, featured many of his photographs and, given the curiosity about the Rockies at the time, brought his images to the attention of alpinists, explorers, scientists, and editors throughout the world. And certainly the early ACC trips provided the basis for much of his collection, which today is made up of some 6,500 negatives and plates.

Club activities brought Harmon into close contact with the most colourful men in the Rockies, men who exerted great influence on his life: European guides such as Conrad Kain, Edward Feuz, and Rudolf Aemmer, men famous for their strength and daring who, collectively, never lost a single client; packers and outfitters like Jimmy Simpson, Bill Peyto, and the Brewster brothers, horsemen whose ability to turn an invective phrase against an ‘ornery cayuse’ never failed to astound the dudes and was matched only by their ability to bend the wilderness to meet their own ends; and explorers, scientists, and surveyors like Charles Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and A.O. Wheeler, founder, director, and first president of the Alpine Club and one of Canada’s foremost surveyors and cartographers. From such men Harmon learned the secrets of mountain life, from the subtleties of the alpinists’ knots and the packers’ diamond hitch to the trick of drying wet matches in his hair. With them he formed his closest friendships- alliances that lasted long after his most active days on the trail.

His role as Club photographer gave Harmon a unique position

A Life In The Wilderness

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