Turn of the century adventures explored in ‘Mountain Woman’


The wild Rocky Mountains called to local legend Mary Schäffer, who was not one to turn down a good adventure.

Through live performance, ‘Mary Schäffer, Mountain Woman’, is brought to life with pioneering stories, adventures in the untamed Rockies, and historical moments for a new generation to experience.

“Mary was ahead of her time,” said Shirley Truscott, local performer and creator of the show. “She was a naturalist, a turn of the century Quaker naturalist, floral artist, photographer and a writer as well.

“I do three presentations about mountain women, all about pioneers, and she’s one of them.”

‘Mary Schäffer, Mountain Woman’ takes place on Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Canmore’s artsPlace. The show is about an hour in length and tickets are $20 for the general public and $15 for Alpine Club members.

Local cellist Elizabeth Sorochan will perform classical music during the performance.

Often, Schäffer would take marathon trips on horseback, with few companions in the wooded, uncharted backcountry, which sometimes lasted an entire summer.

“A lot of people think of Mary as an explorer, a pioneer explorer, who travelled through the backcountry in Lake Louise in 1907,” said Truscott. “She was the first white woman, she and her friend, to see Maligne Lake in Jasper (National Park).

While in character as Schäffer, wearing a fringed buckskin jacket, long riding skirt and brimmed hat, Truscott recounts stories of Schäffer’s wilderness travels, and showcases the beautiful archival images of Schäffer’s life on a projection screen courtesy of Banff’s Whyte Museum. Truscott also describes lyrical passages from Schäffer’s book, Old Indian Trails.

“It’s a program where people learn a lot, learn about life and work and in the early days of scientific discovery, that was when amateurs could make a serious contribution to science,” said Truscott.

“She and her husband contributed a lot to the early days of science … she illustrated a lot of plants and collected plants, photographed them, dried and pressed flowers in the evening. These were new species of mountain flowers they were discovering.”

Born in Pennsylvania in 1861, Schäffer relocated to Banff in the early 1900s. She was buried in the old Banff cemetery after her death in 1939.

Two other mountain women that Truscott does live performances of are Canmore’s Elizabeth Rummel and Mary Vaux.

For more information about the artsPlace performance, check out www.artsplacecanmore.com.


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Rocky Mountain Outlook