Learning, Connection and Fun

The Women Mountaineers of Chilliwack

Posted on: March 19th, 2018 by

Group photo of Nina Carleton, Irene and Gertrude Knight, William Knight, “Olealley” Louie, and Lyle and Carolyn Macken, 1907 [P1190]

Group photo of Nina Carleton, Irene and Gertrude Knight, William Knight, “Olealley” Louie, and Lyle and Carolyn Macken, 1907 [P1190]

During my research for the upcoming exhibition, Mountaineers: Community Experience in Chilliwack’s Mountains, I’ve discovered some great accounts of women exploring the local ranges. In fact, one of the initial factors that drew me to the exhibition theme, is that climbing and exploration of the nearby mountains has long been an activity for all genders to enjoy. The following is one example.

When William Knight led a party of seven up Lhílheqey (Mt. Cheam) in 1907, his daughters Irene and Gertrude, along with Mina Carleton and Carolyn Macken, joined the climb to the peak. Unlike today, this journey was a challenging multi-day climb that involved hiking up the north side of the mountain from a trail near Bridal Falls. Camping several nights on the mountainside, scrambling along loose rock, and at least one hold-your-breath dash along a narrow ledge were required parts of the climb.

To make the journey more practical, the women of 1907 eschewed the dress conventions of the day by wearing short(er) skirts. While still considered long and hampering by today’s standards, a member of the climbing party, Carl Grossman, observed that, “The girls had donned their climbing clothes and looked like a lot of school kids. Their skirts were cut to the knees and looked very funny.”1

Gertrude and Irene Knight rest at Prairie Camp, halfway up the Lhílheqey hike, 1907 [P1192]

Gertrude and Irene Knight rest at Prairie Camp, halfway up the Lhílheqey (Mt. Cheam) hike, 1907 [P1192]

Irene (Knight) Bunt and her sister Gertrude (Knight) Barber were in fact regular climbers of Lhílheqey (Mt. Cheam) and accompanied their father on countless trips to the peak. Bunt later recalled, “As a child we lived at Popcum and saw Cheam very well. Most years my father, William Knight, would take parties of young people up in August. We would leave early Monday morning and not get back until Sat. p.m. It was a delightful trip and we all…enjoyed it.”2

Unfortunately for Barber, she never reached the very top of the mountain. It appears that the various hiking parties inevitably had at least one member with a fear of heights, and poor “Gertie” was always selected to bring them back down to an easier part of the trail.

For more accounts such as this, make sure you visit our exhibition Mountaineers: Community Experience in Chiliwack’s Mountains when it opens at the Chilliwack Museum and Archives on May 18, 2018.

(Read more about the group’s climb in this 1907 article from the Progress archives.)

  1. Letter from Carl Grossman, 25 August 1907, AM0014, Grossman family fonds
  2. Letter from Irene (Knight) Bunt to the Chilliwack Historical Society, 11 November 1985, AM0606, 1985.092, Irene Bunt fonds