“Mountain Romantics: The Whytes of Banff” by Chic Scott

Catharine Whyte poses with a traditional headress. Photo courtesy of Chic Scott.

Catharine Whyte poses with a traditional headdress. Photo supplied by Chic Scott.

Mountain Romantics:The Whytes of Banff
Assiniboine Publishing Limited: Banff, 2014
Written by: Chic Scott

This book tells the story of the White/Whyte family: its triumphs and its tragedies, its joy and its heartbreak. As well, it is the story of the town of Banff, a unique community in Canada.  –Mountain Romantics, p. 7.

Mountain Romantics: The Whytes of Banff is a must read and purchase for those interested in the layered history of Banff and the founding mothers/fathers of this innovative community. The birth, development, maturation, tensions and contemporary life of Banff are meticulously described and thoughtfully unravelled in this unfolding drama of five generations of the Whyte families.

Mountain Romantics is truly about romantics in the older and classical sense of the integration of the arts, culture, literature, nature, community and public life. The Whyte families have been at the centre of Banff life (past & present) and the tale of the Whyte family and Banff is exquisitely threaded together. The book is deftly divided into five parts: 1) Pioneers, 2) Creative Visionaries, 3) Businessmen, Poet-Historians and Philanthropists, 4) Guardians, 5) The Heritage and the aptly titled, Conclusion,“The River Remains”. Each of the telling chapters is balanced well and wisely with mountain photos, main actors in the Banff/Whyte drama and the events unfolding in the broader world in the 20th century (and its impact on Banff and the Whyte family).

There are some exceptional and evocatively reproduced paintings in the book by Peter and Catherine Whyte (who often get more attention than most) — the gadfly role of Jon Whyte in Banff is told in a charming and appealing manner — Banff has never quite known what to do with Jon Whyte. The task for most of those in the extended Whyte families has been to sort out how they can combine their lives in the mountains with carving out a living in such a place—Norquay and Sunshine Village, Lake Louise and Skoki Lodge, park rangers and aspiring mountaineers are all part of the myth and legend of the generations of the Whyte families in Banff and beyond. It is to Chic Scott’s biographical credit that he does not reduce the tale of the Whyte family to hagiography and a Walt Disney production — there was, indeed, alcoholism, family feuds, economic gaffs, marriage betrayals and much else to face, live into and live through. This is history as it should be told; gold and dross, wheat and chaff, joy and woe woven fine, as clothing for the soul divine.

A former storefront, Banff's Book and Art Den, owned by the Steiners. Photo supplied by Chic Scott.

A former storefront, Banff’s Book and Art Den, owned by the Steiners. Photo supplied by Chic Scott.

The archival photos on the covers and within the book of mountain scenery, ski, climbing and trekking trips, huts and cabins in the historic making and the cast of characters make such a tale worth the telling. Those with attentive ears, hearts and minds cannot but be drawn into the ever widening circle of Banff and the Whytes.

Chic Scott has prepared the table well. The reader is invited to come, dine and sup at the well prepared and bountiful mountain family feast.

Ron Dart

Ron Dart

Ron Dart has taught in the department of political science/philosophy/religious studies at University of the Fraser Valley since 1990. Ron lived in Norway-Switzerland from 1972-1974 where he absorbed the finest of the Norwegian and Swiss alpine culture and tradition. Ron has trekked, skied and climbed many trails, mountains and glaciers in Europe and North America for many a pleasant decade—he has, also, published articles, book reviews and trip reports on mountaineering in Appalachia, Cloudburst, Canadian Alpine Journal, British Columbia Mountaineering Club, The B.C. Mountaineer, Gazette, Avalanche Echoes and other magazines. Ron has published two books on mountaineering culture: Mountaineering and the Humanities and Thomas Merton and the Beats of the North Cascades.