Mountain romantics, the Whites of Banff
Forty years ago, during the record snow years of the early 70s, I stood outside all winter at Sunshine Village Ski Resort loading the Strawberry T-Bar. Clifford J.White, President of the organization, often rode my lift, as did his children, Cliffy, Brad and Tristan. Little did we think that someday I would be writing their family history.
– image V683 I c 3 – Courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
“Is it White or is it Whyte?” is the question I always get when I tell people that I am writing this book. “It’s both”, I say. Dave and Annie, the founders of the dynasty, spelled their name with an i, but their son Peter, in 1927, while studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, began signing his drawings with a y, perhaps feeling that this had more class or cachet. Since then different members of the family have used both spellings: Catharine and her nephew Jon used a y, Clifford J. who with his wife Bev created modern Sunshine Village, always used an i. And his father Cliff Sr. and Uncle Jackie spelled their names both ways at different times.
◄ Dave White arrived in Banff in 1886 and with his wife Annie Curren founded the family
– image V377-pa-117-10 – Courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
One thing is certain, however, the Whyte/White family has had an immense impact on the Banff community. Their legacy is everywhere – Mount Norquay, Lake Louise and Sunshine Village ski resorts are their creations, as are the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, the Margaret Greenham Theatre at the Banff Centre, the Banff Recreation Centre and the Banff Public Library. The oldest commercial property on Banff Avenue is the Dave White Block, completed in 1913.
Patriarch Dave arrived in Banff in 1886 from New Brunswick and his wife-to-be, Annie Curren arrived not long after from Scotland. Married in 1901, they built up one of the most successful businesses in town, a dry goods store. The wealth that this pair amassed gave their children freedom to express themselves in other creative ways.
Cliff White was one of the first to promote the ski industry in the Banff area ►
– image V683-I c 2 b-pa 139-112 – Courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
Cliff’s brother, Peter, was a talented artist and while studying in Boston fell in love with Catharine Robb, a wealthy and cultured young woman from nearby Concord, Mass. He regaled her with tales of romance and adventure in the Canadian Rockies and they were married in 1930, settling in Banff. They both were excellent artists, perhaps the best to emerge from this area. Later, with family money that Catharine brought from the USA and property that Dave (and later Peter and Catharine) had amassed, they founded what is today the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Their love of the human and natural history of Banff and the Rocky Mountains forms the core and the spirit of this organization. Peter died in 1966 but Catharine lived another 13 years. Her life is marked by great generosity to the Banff community – she donated money to build the Margaret Greenham Theatre at the Banff Centre and she paid a significant amount towards the original Banff Recreation Centre. In the early sixties she donated a building for the Banff Public Library and later the land on which the present library stands. Her support for the Stoney people from Morley is legendary and, over the years, dozens of individuals in Banff also benefited from the generosity of this remarkable woman. In 1969 she received an honourary doctorate from the University of Calgary and in 1978 she was awarded the Order of Canada.
◄ Jon Whyte blossomed as a student at the University of Alberta
– image V690-IV.c.f1.08 – Courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
When Cliff’s son, Clifford J., and his wife Bev, bought Sunshine Village in 1960, it consisted of three log cabins and a rope tow. When Cliff retired in 1977, Sunshine had five lifts, a day lodge and a hotel. In addition, Goat’s Eye and the gondola had been approved. Without a doubt, modern Sunshine Village Ski Resort is their creation.
One of the most interesting of the clan is Jon Whyte. Growing up in Banff, this ultra intelligent and nerdy child did not fit in well with his more athletic schoolmates, but when he went to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, during the creative years of the early 60s, Jon found his milieu. In 1967, Jon received a master’s degree in Old English. He followed that up with a master’s degree in Communications from Stanford University in California, before returning to to Banff. Here he rediscovered his home and for the next 25 years was the intellectual heart of the town. He reminded us over and over again of the special place where we live and of the rich history we have inherited. Jon died of cancer in 1992, at the age of 51, but his effect on our community was profound
Clifford J. White and his wife Bev created modern Sunshine Ski Resort ▲
– image Cliff_Bev at Sunshine – Courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
▼The Dave White block, completed in 1913, is the oldest commercial building on Banff Avenue
– image V688-pd1-20 – Courtesy of the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
Clifford J. White and Bev’s children are still active in Banff. As a National Park Warden, the oldest son, Cliffy, has played a pivotal role in creating the modern approach to ‘managing’ national parks. Perhaps his biggest legacy will be the development of a controlled burning program that is now practiced in parks across Canada. Today he is very active in the effort to bring bison back to Banff National Park. His brother Brad is also a park warden, specializing in mountain rescue. So if you get in trouble out there in the hills, it may be Brad that comes flying in under a helicopter to pluck you to safety. And the baby of the family, Tristan, is now all grown up and the Chair of the Board at the Whyte Museum. Responsible for the overall direction of the organization, she can feel very proud of what it has to offer. The Gateway to the Rockies Exhibit in the main gallery takes the visitor on a wonderful tour through the Rocky Mountains over the ages. I urge you all to visit the museum and to enjoy the great legacy bequeathed to us by Peter and Catharine and all the other members of the family.