Cliff Fenner: Mountain Man.

While our events and exhibitions garner most of the attention, there is a third, equally important component of the Museum’s activities: managing our archives. This might not sound that exciting, but an archive is essentially a community’s collective memory, at least on paper. If you considers the sharpness of some people’s memories around here you begin to realize how crucial our archives are.

Anyone interested in the history of our local mountains will be excited by one of Sarah and Brad‘s latest projects: accessioning the Cliff Fenner fonds. (“Fond” is archive-speak for a distinct collection of documents, usually an organization’s documents or someone’s personal files.)

Cliff Fenner was born in 1909 in England where he built a solid career in the timber industry. After helping manage and maintain the crucial  flow of commodities for the Allied war effort, in 1947 he moved to Vancouver. Here he bounced around a few more logging camps, then helped run Mount Seymour Park for a few years, before accepting the position of Park Supervisor for Garibaldi Provincial Park in 1953.

A Vancouver Province article on Fenner.

For the next few decades Fenner’s job mainly consisted of hiking around Garibaldi’s vast mountainscapes observing wildlife, leading trail crews, and advising on the park’s development. Dream job, anyone?

A year into his warden career Fenner described this twist in his life’s path in a way that’s easy to relate to today:

“I have always loved the outdoors. I’ve had city jobs, of course. Even thought about building up my own business, but I’d been exposed to too much good, fresh air.”

Lucky for us, Fenner was more than capable behind the lens; after retiring from the park service he made his living as a travel photographer and writer. Today our archives hold an extensive collection of his photos taken over more than two decades amongst the Coast Mountains.

Other interesting documents in the Fenner Fonds also include:

  • Fenner’s March 1960 report to BC Parks about a helicopter survey of Garibaldi Park to locate potential Winter Olympics sites. His preferred location for the Olympics base area was the west end of Cheakamus Lake, with ski runs on Whistler’s south-western slopes (Khyber’s, Cakehole, etc).
  • Several old magazines (Reader’s Digest, B.C. Motorist, etc.)  in which Fenner’s photos and articles were published.
  • Personal files like his official certificate of Canadian citizenship, correspondence related to his photography, writing and travel, even a tourist visa for Columbia from 1980.

Another Fenner photo from the same issue of BC Motorist, showing Creekside in its infancy.

We’ve just started to browse the documents and photos, so surely there’s still some goodies yet to be found in there.

An unidentified climbing partner on one of Cliff’s mountaineering trips near Bralorne.


8 responses to “Cliff Fenner: Mountain Man.

  1. Pingback: From the Archives – Cliff Fenner, Mountain Man. — Whistler Is Awesome – Whistler Blog

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  6. Barnaby Guthrie

    I worked with Cliff in the summer and fall of 1954 in Garibaldi Park. I was 17 at the time; just having graduated from high school that June, I stayed on in the fall after the other guys on the high school training crew returned back to school in September. We continued to do trail building and work on the cabins at the lake. We stayed in Taylor Cabin. I could make the hike up from Garibaldi Station with a load of groceries in about 2 1/2 hours. Cliff was like a second father, a very patient fellow and an expert rock climber. Occasionally we would take the day off and climb one of the peaks above the Sphinx glacier at the north east end of Garibaldi Lake. We did Sentinel, Black Tusk, and made a start on Castle Towers before I balked at the bottom of a rock face there. Would be interested in how I might access archive materials on him. I have one or two pictures of Cliff as 35 mm slides. He gave me my first instructions in photography with an Ansco Memar camera which he selected for me. I was very fortunate to know him and I much valued his friendship and guidance at the time.

    • Hey Barnaby,

      Thanks for the great comment! By all accounts he was a very capable climber and a great person. We’ve got a fair amount of archival material, and lots of great photos of his. Also check out this blog post if you haven’t yet:

      I’ve forwarded your info to our archivist, who will be contacting you soon.


      • Thanks Jeff. I’ve enclosed a copy of Cliff looking over his beloved Garibaldi Lake, and another of me with Cliff to the right and another friend of his, whose name I’ve forgotten, on the left. I’ll look through my paper pictures and see if there’s anything worth sending. I’ve seen the link that you suggest–thanks.

        It’s wonderful that Cliff is being memorialized with your archives. He was a great and gentle fellow and I remember him very clearly.




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