The Vaux Family: A Legacy of Glacier Photography

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By Matthew J. Beedle

A century of change of Illecillewaet Glacier, British Columbia, in Glacier National Park of Canada.

In August 2011 I spent three days in Mt. Robson Provincial Park with Roger Wheate and Marlene Baumgart.  Our primary purpose was to take a centenary repeat photograph of Robson Glacier.  On our final day in the park, as we rounded Berg Lake on our descent to the trailhead, we met two fellow hikers.  Thanks to Roger’s gregarious nature we began to have brief conversations as we leapfrogged down the trail – each of us stopping regularly to take photographs, drink some water, or adjust a pack strap.  As luck would have it we had just crossed trails with Henry Vaux Jr. and his wife Charlotte.

In 1887 George Vaux Sr. brought his children (George Jr., Mary, and William) to the Canadian Rocky Mountains for the first time.  Long train journeys from their home in Philadelphia to the glaciers of Banff, Glacier, and Yoho National Parks became regular summer expeditions.  The siblings returned to the glaciers of the Canadian Rocky Mountains for decades, Mary the last to return in 1939, a year before her death.

In 1899 George and William collaborated on two papers that were published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, two of the earliest publications to document receding glaciers in western Canada.  These papers include excellent sketch maps, early measurements of glacier flow and recession, and wonderful accounts of science and exploration from the late 19th century.  They can be accessed here and here.

But perhaps the most lasting legacy of the early Vaux-family explorers are the thousands of glass plate and film negative photographs of the glaciers they visited, archived today at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.  Outfitted with glass plates and cumbersome tripods and cameras the Vaux family captured some of the earliest photographs of glaciers in western Canada.

Henry Vaux Jr. and sister Missy Vaux photographing Illecillewaet Glacier in 2002.  In their hands they hold the 1902 photo taken from the same location by their grandfather and great aunt and uncle.  This photo is used with permission from Craig Richards.

Henry Vaux Jr. – a professor of resource economics and expert in water policy at University of California, Berkeley – is the grandson of George Jr., and great nephew of Mary and William.  Since 1997 Henry has been revisiting the sites (camera and tripod in hand) that his family members first occupied some 100 years previously.  The results include brilliant photo pairs showing a century of change in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Meeting Henry and Charlotte was wonderfully fortuitous.  To Henry’s credit he has provided with permission to display four of his repeat photographs in advance of his book (“Legacy in Time”), which will be published in the coming year.  We look forward to announcing the publication of “Legacy in Time” at!

View Henry’s repeat photographs here:  Vaux Family Gallery:  Glaciers of the Canadian Rockies


Learn more about Mary Vaux:  Hunters of Knowledge and Peace: Mary Schäffer & Mary Vaux (Whyte Museum) or here on YouTube

Following glaciers’ progress a Vaux family tradition

The Vaux Family and the Canadian Alps

Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

Vaux family fonds

Glacier National Park:  History

Photographic History of the Illecillewaet Glacier



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