1484 Edward Feuz, alpine legend

Edward Feuz Jr.: A Story of Enchantment
by D.L. Stephen

Victoria: Rocky Mountain Books, 2021
$28.00 / 9781771605090

Reviewed by Ron Dart

*

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. — John Muir (quoted in Edward Feuz Jr., p. 277)

The Canadian mountaineering tradition has its layered origins in the role of the CPR and its employment of Swiss guides, of whom Edward Feuz Jr. (1884-1981, originally Eduard) was, without much doubt, one of the most significant of the first generation of Canadian mountaineering. The beauty and joy of D.L. (Donna) Stephen’s biography of Feuz is the way she intricately threads together both Feuz’s compelling mountaineering life and her own journey of sorts with Feuz and his wife. Edward Feuz Jr. is both a biography of Feuz and a memoir of Stephen’s journey into the enchantment and magic of mountaineering and mountain life and culture via Feuz’s Sherpa-like leadership.

Edward Feuz Jr. is a companion book and yet takes deeper dives into the Swiss Guide ethos than the path-breaking The Guiding Spirit (1986), by Andrew Kauffman and William Putnam. Many of the first-generation guides are aptly mentioned in this admirably personal and focused biography of one the legends in Canadian mountaineering culture. But the evocative beauty of this biography is revealed in the way Stephens highlights Feuz’s multiple first ascents, significant guiding skills, and legendary status along with his personal, private, and family character, and his distinctive personality.

Edward Feuz Jr.

Stephens had access to this side of Edward Feuz because her American family, for decades, had a maturing and ripe relationship with the Swiss guides and mostly with Feuz and his wife, Martha.

The history of the Swiss Edelweiss Village in Golden — a heritage site presently threatened by developers — is told in tender detail, and the tensions between the Swiss guides and the CPR are equally recounted in a candid manner. The early years of the Swiss guides and their families was a most difficult one: the BC interior lacked basic amenities and the frigid Canadian winters were in stark contrast to the more temperate and urbanized alpine life in Switzerland.

Stephen is certainly not shy about sharing in poignant detail many of the challenges faced by Feuz and other Swiss guides in Golden in the early decades of the twentieth century. The ample collection of photographs of Feuz and friends — including many with Donna Stephen’s friends and family — provide a generous and inviting contrast to the engaging text. The photos provide a journey into the emerging generations of the Canadian mountaineering ethos in BC, with the Golden, Rogers Pass, Yoho, O’Hara, and Lake Louise mountain paradises worthy of many a repeated trip and trek.

Edward Feuz guiding an unidentified visitor up Saddleback Mountain in the Lake Louise region, ca. 1912. Courtesy Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

I enjoyed the bounty of the book on several levels. I lived in alpine Switzerland from 1972-1974 and spent much of my time near Interlaken, where the Feuz family is from, and I trekked many of the trails and climbed many of the peaks that Stephen mentions and that Feuz led trips to. Many of the mountaineering legends in the Canadian Rockies including Bruno Engler, Lizzie Rummel, Georgia Engelhard, Conrad Kain, Sepp (“Seppi”) Renner, and Ruthie Oltmann – to name a few — have since whispered mountain lore and wisdom to my soul. I have also spent time at the Swiss Edelweiss Village in Golden and chatted with Jean Feuz Vaughan when she was alive. She kindly invited my wife Karin and me to spend an evening in the standard and much decorated Feuz mountaineering home.

Many BC climbs led by Feuz feature in this keeper and charmer of a book. Legendary trips include Assiniboine on the Great Divide between BC and Alberta. In December 1976 I did a 5-day ski trip into Assiniboine under a full moon. Small wooden cabins and crackling fires kept us warm on frigid nights. Feuz did multiple trips into the Lake O’Hara area, which is certainly one of the must-do trips of the Rockies and the crown jewel, in many ways, of high alpine trips, with the Alpine Club of Canada’s Elizabeth Parker hut to nest in. Feuz played a leading and significant role in the building of Abbot Hut, a delight of a rock-solid hut to bunk in at night before climbing Lefroy or Victoria; but sadly, the hut is no longer safe to stay in. Stephen recounts the many trips she, her sister Cindy, and her family went on with Feuz, and she records the multiple comments left by patrons and clients who honoured and celebrated Feuz’s guiding skills.

D.L. (Donna) Stephen of Bow Valley, Alberta. Photo by Alexis McKeown

As the book inches towards its inevitable end, Feuz’s wife has died and increasingly he is alone and lonely. Donna and Cindy become not only Feuz’s daughters but “Edward’s Girls,” making this a touching and telling tale of lives knit together through the enchantment of the mountains.

Indeed the final chapter, “Edward’s Girls,” lingers on the climb that Donna, Cindy, and Seppi Renner did to the summit of BC’s Mount Tupper in 2005 to celebrate Feuz’s first ascent of the peak decades before. It was a pleasure to me to relive the animated moments as step by step, challenge by challenge, rock by rock, photo by photo, the group made the lengthy trek to the demanding peak. Seppi, faithful guide and mentor, was in many ways the younger version of Edward Feuz.

There is ample reason for a pleasurable read or browse of Edward Feuz Jr., a story about the enchanting world of mountaineering culture and mountains. Feuz is a true guide into such a reality.

*

Ron Dart

Ron Dart has taught in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley since 1990. He was on staff with Amnesty International in the 1980s. Ron has published 40 books including Erasmus: Wild Bird (Create Space, 2017) and The North American High Tory Tradition (American Anglican Press, 2016). Editor’s note: Ron Dart has recently reviewed books by Elizabeth May, Stephen Hui (Destination Hikes), Stephen Hui (105 Hikes), David Crerar, Harry Crerar, & Bill Maurer, and Doug Beardsley for The British Columbia Review. He has also contributed three essays, From Jalna to Timber Baron: Reflections on the life of H.R. MacMillan, Haig-Brown & Al Purdy, and Save Swiss Edelweiss Village.

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The British Columbia Review

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

L-R: Ron Dart, Ruthie Oltmann, Sepp Renner outside one of the huts in Assiniboine, 2013. Renner and his family were keepers of the lodge in Assiniboine for decades
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One comment on “1484 Edward Feuz, alpine legend

  1. Thanks for this review Ron. We read the book for our men’s book club and only one curmudgeon did not like it. I was enthralled by the whole book. Having lived in Banff since the early seventies, I was too late to have known Edward. I bought a copy of the book for Sepp and he also thoroughly enjoyed it. I can’t believe that the author is working right here in Banff and I was totally unaware. I am going to make a point of meeting her and telling her in person what a great read it is!

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