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Alpine Club of Canada co-founder awarded national historic designation



She was a prolific writer, organizer and one of the best advocates for uniquely Canadian culture this country has ever known.

And earlier this month Elizabeth Parker, co-founder of the Alpine Club of Canada, was one of 16 women to be designated to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC). Supported by Parks Canada, the HSMBC recognizes national historic sites, places, events and people who've helped shape Canadian culture, history and identity.

"From the Alpine Club of Canada's standpoint, we think it's very cool and very appropriate," said Lawrence White, ACC executive director. "She was a very significant woman in Canadian history and for the history of Western Canada."

Parker, who lived from 1856 to 1944, co-founded the ACC in 1906 with Arthur Wheeler, a prominent Canadian surveyor. Intelligent and well-spoken, in 1904 she began what would be a 36-year journalism career with the Manitoba Free Press, which included a long-running daily column on the editorial page. The subject for which she became most famous was Canada's mountain heritage.

That same year Parker travelled to Banff with her children to benefit in the highly touted recuperative powers of Banff's Sulphur Mountain hot springs. While her frail health prevented her from actually climbing mountains, during her 18-month stay she began writing newspaper and magazine articles about the mountains for Canadian publications.

After the American Alpine Club was formed in 1902, its first president, Charles Fay, proposed the creation of a Canadian chapter. Appalled at the notion, Parker delivered a pen lashing on the pages of the Free Press, suggesting it was downright un-Canadian to subject Canadian mountaineers to the dictates of a foreign alpine institution.

"Her most significant legacy to us was her unwavering resolve and vision to found an alpine club in Canada that belonged to Canada and was not just an add-on to an American club," White said.

With the formation of the ACC, Parker served as its first secretary until 1910, in an era when the very idea of women being accepted as members to national alpine clubs was unwelcome. The ACC embraced female members from its inception. While they were expected to wear proper dresses to the dinner tent, from the first annual mountaineering camp in 1906, they did change to trousers to participate in climbing adventures.

"She helped lay the foundation for women in the club, which continues today with our Honorary President, Marge Hind," White said.

Parker also helped steer the ACC toward playing a significant role in the formation of early public policy behind the establishment of Canada's mountain parks and Canada's early 20th century wilderness preservation movements. In 1907 she helped found the Canadian Alpine Journal, the official record of climbing in Canadian mountains and by Canadians abroad, which she edited with Wheeler in its early years, and which continues to be among the country's longest continuously running publications.

Founding the club in Winnipeg, which was very much the centre of the country at the time, White added, exemplified Parker's vision that the ACC should be for all Canadians, and not just those who lived amidst or climbed in its mountain ranges.

"It didn't make a difference to her where people were from," White said. "She understood what it meant to be Canadian. She understood how to promote a culture of the mountains. She promoted a sense of Canadiana and the importance of wild spaces in general."