April 18th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 16
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Capturing the Crow
Looking Back
courtesy of Betty Walmsley
Douglas firs balance Morant’s classic CPR photo of the crow
It is the last remnant of a nappe or large body of rock (thrust sheet) and is referred to as a klippe. It is a mountain that has ancient limestones and shales shoved up over top of younger rocks from the Late Cretaceous period along the Lewis Thrust Fault. Millions of years of erosion by Allison Creek have left it standing alone, like Chief Mountain, Mount Yamnuska and the Rock of Gibraltar.

It is the mountain that defines this place we call the Crowsnest Pass and one is hard pressed not to drink in its splendor from its commanding place east of the High Rock Range. I defy you to travel east or west past her and not be drawn visually to her magnificent parliament.

Her image stays with you always. We use Crowsnest Mountain as a barometer of sorts, as weather patterns move past her or shroud her summit. Snow crowns her most months of the year and clouds stream off her peak giving her the appearance at times of a volcano. I grew up in her shadow and when I have been away for a time I find it necessary to revisit her visually to reset my Pass comfort zone.

To capture the Crow is a challenge many have taken up. Studying how light plays off her in the early morning or at sunset can be key. There seems to be two ways photographers have approached presenting her. Either dead-on by herself or as a backdrop to a choice piece of foreground. If she is anywhere in a picture you immediately recognize where the shot was taken from. So why don’t we examine a few images of the Crow taken through the years by some renowned and local photographers and artists. Each has a story.
continued below ...
What got me started on all this Crowexamination was a beautiful photo gifted to me by Betty Walmsley. It is signed on the back by J. L. Kerr who at one time owned the Chinook Motel (Kerr’s cabins) west of Coleman. It is stamped on the back: “Nicholas Morant – Special Photographer – Canadian Pacific Railway”. Written on the photos back, presumably by Kerr, is a note that reads: “Nicholas and Mrs. Morant were guests at Chinook Motel. Taking pictures for the C.P.R., the passenger train would stop so Morant could snap a picture of the coaches with Crowsnest Mountain train in the background. One such picture was hung in the station at Montreal.” I believe this is an image of the Kettle Valley Express heading east past the Crow in 1952. Canadian Pacific is running iconic Morant shots every Monday as part of their commemoration of Canada’s 150th anniversary on this hash tag. https://twitter.com/hashtag/MondayMorant?src=hash

Nicholas Morant’s name is synonymous with Canadian Pacific and for forty four years he crisscrossed Canada on passenger trains photographing hotels, steamships, trucks, airplanes, oil wells, mines, logging and a myriad of other facets of the CPR. His work is unparalleled and left a remarkable legacy of images from the Great Depression through to the end of steam. His shot of the Crow with time worn Douglas firs in the foreground is a classic example of balancing a photo.
Another renown photographer and Swiss alpine guide named Bruno Engler captured yet another ancient Douglas fir with the iconic Crow in the background. Bruno was trained in Switzerland by Hans Ritter and came to Canada in 1939 to join the Swiss mountain guides that had been working in Banff area for CPR since 1899. He was also a trained photographer and his book of photography, which I proudly own a copy of, has dozens of stunning images in it.
continued below ...
What is not know is that Bruno worked at a strip mine in the Pass (probably Grassy) for about four years after the war, as mountaineering is not a full time job. No kidding! He was also a ski instructor here and in Waterton and assisted in creating a ski area here. During his time in the Pass Engler climbed several of our peaks with another famous climber, Fritz Frei. In 1951 they climbed a difficult new route on the northwest face of the main (north) tower of the Seven Sisters. Can you just imagine standing on that tower looking south at the Crow!

Bruno passed in 2001 and in a 1999 issue of Mountain Heritage Magazine I found an interview with him where he talked about his Swiss training with a very strict Ritter. In a training climb with Hans he recalls having dropped his hammer and said: “I dropped a hammer and, oh boy, he got really mad. He grabbed me by the collar and hung me out over the cliff and said ‘The next time you are going over with it! A lost hammer could mean your life and your client’s life.’” Gulp!

An artist more closely connected to me and this one-of-a-kind mountain is my adopted daughter Kelly Anne. Kelly studied at the Alberta College of Art in the 1980’s and through the years has created a vast array of works in mediums like pen and ink, pastels and water colour. Her introduction to the Crow left her profoundly affected by its majesty and she quickly learned how much it meant to our family.

She recalls my father telling a story about the Crow from his early days as a Scottish immigrant living in Calgary for a time. Dad was a student at St. George’s school in 1929 and had an arrogant Prussian art teacher whom he never forgot. His last name was Von Valkenberg and one day he had instructed his class to draw "Prevent Forest Fires" posters with some prominent scenery, such as a mountain they had seen, on them. On observing my father's sketch of the Crow he exclaimed: "Where did you ever see a mountain shaped like that?" and promptly drew a big X through it and said of it: “Utter trash”. I don’t know how many times I have mentally hauled that teacher’s ass out of a car at Bohomolec’s Ranch and pointed north and said: “There it is, right there Von Valkenberg, majestically guarding the Pass”
continued below ...
Thus inspired Kelly created a nice pen, pencil and ink classic Crow that she gave to my father and has since shared high quality copies with some of the family.

It seems that this family thing with the Crow has surfaced in a really big way the last few years. A local photographer that is hopelessly hooked on the Crow is my amazing niece Lisa Kinnear. Lisa has really made a name for herself with her remarkable photos (Bound for Mountain Photography) and will go to any length, day or night, in any kind of temperature to capture images. I teased her recently about the fact that the Crow seems to be everywhere in her studies.

I counted 28 different shots of the Crow on her Bound for Mountain facebook site. Images with brilliant northern lights framing the mountain, shots with Perseid or Quadrantid meteors streaking by and a breath-taking night shot of Crowsnest Mountain and the Seven Sisters under a blue and purple Milky Way. But it is the backside view (looking south) of this 9,137 foot high peak that is her favourite. On the right of the photo is the amazing window from Window Mountain and on the left is the craggy Seven Sisters. The positioning of this shot and the time of day it was shot shows you this intrepid photographer with her trusty Nikon is prepared to position herself in some pretty hair-raising places to get those special shots.

Lisa expressed how she felt about her work this way: “Sometimes we cannot articulate what it is about a given landscape that pulls so strongly on our heart strings. To be able to capture even a fleeting impression of this emotion in a photograph is immensely humbling and gratifying; capturing an image that speaks to others in the same manner even more-so.”

As a dedicated Crow watcher I can tell you I have pointed my camera at the Crow’s palisades more times than I can remember. I recall a special friend and acclaimed photographer Lawrence Chrismas coaching me on shooting her years ago. We were camped at Chinook and to make his point he had me take shots with the late afternoon sun on her face and then again after the sun had set and the light evened out. The difference was stunning and the evenly lit features, many of which were obscured by shadow in the first shot, stood out so much better.

We are truly blessed to live in the shadow of Crowsnest Mountain. She is a unique national treasure that stands alone in her magnificence.
Digital issues of the Pass Herald are now available:

Subscribe and read the FULL Pass Herald online.

or read just this issue of the Pass Herald online.
April 18th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 16
All information on this website is Copyright (c) 2018 Pass Herald Ltd. All rights reserved.
12925 20th Ave, Box 960, Blairmore, Alberta, Canada T0K 0E0 | news@passherald.ca | 403.562.2248 | 403.562.8379 (FAX)