Shari Zisk-Feuz’s great-grandfather, Walter Feuz, was one of the famous Swiss mountain guides in the Canadian Rockies, hired to lure tourists. In her second report on her family history, she travels from Canada to the Bernese Oberland.
This content was published on July 30, 2022 – 09:00
Shari Zisk-Feuz, adapted by Melanie Eichenberger
I’m planning my trip to the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland to learn more about my family’s roots in the Swiss Alps. I am interested in the life of these mountain guides trained in Switzerland and their settlement in Western Canada. As I gathered resources about my Swiss great-grandfathers and great-uncles, I walked some fascinating avenues of exploration.
Swiss mountain guides have greatly influenced the alpine culture of western Canada, which is well documented. However, I also discovered a subtle but beautiful role that Swiss guides played alongside emerging landscape painters from North America.
Swiss mountaineer and North American artist
My great-uncle, Swiss guide Edward Feuz Jr., noted that most of the first clients of Swiss guides in the Canadian Rockies were artists. At the turn of the century, the modernist art movement was in full swing and the new Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) opened up the West to new landscapes to draw and paint for the first time in history.
In 1920, a group of now famous Canadian landscape painters came together to form what is known as the “Group of Seven”. Among them was the artist Lawren Harris (1885-1970), known for his striking paintings of Canadian landscapes. In 1924, Harris made the first of six annual sketching trips to the Canadian Rockies.
In 2014, I visited the Vancouver Art Gallery, which featured several works by Lawren Harris. Its magnificent panoramas of the mountains marked me. The deep and rich alpine palette caught my eye and I purchased a series of his mountain works to decorate my home.
During my research on the artist and his works, I realized a special relationship between the Harris mountain paintings on my wall and my Swiss ancestors.
Beautiful Lake MacArthur sits at the foot of a series of peaks in British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains, named after the first five Swiss guides who worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Walter (Feuz) Peak, Ernest (Feuz) Peak, Edward (Feuz) Peak, Christian (Haesler) Peak and Rudolph (Aemmer) Peak. Indeed, Harris joined one of these Swiss mountaineers on an expedition to the rugged region.
Harris’ mountain paintings are compared to his better-known contemporary Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), the famous American modernist artist who also shares a connection with our Swiss mountain guides in Canada.
The Lady Mountaineer and Painter
While reading The guiding spirit (Putnam & Kaufman, 1988), the delicious book on Swiss guides in Canada, I learned that extreme summit enthusiasts were not always men. References to an exceptional client are numerous: Georgia Engelhard (1906-1986). Engelhard was an American mountaineer who made an astonishing number of ascents in the 1930s in the Canadian mountains, including 32 first summit ascents. Mount Engelhard bears his name.
“You have a beautiful lady, but be careful. When she starts going up, she goes like a rocket,” said guide Edward Feuz Jr., who has guided Georgia on many of her climbs.
Besides being an avid mountaineer, Georgia Engelhard was also an artist. She was a painter and, coincidentally, she was the niece of Georgia O’Keeffe. Although Engelhard never achieved the popularity of her famous aunt, she produced mountain works that were often confused with those of her aunt.
Georgia Engelhard retired to Interlaken, hometown of her longtime friends, the Swiss guides she met in the Canadian Rockies. She started mountain photography in Interlaken and many of her photos appeared in early Swiss tourism marketing.
My ascent begins
It’s almost time to get on the train for my personal trip to the Alps. Plus, as I explore the valleys, peaks, and villages of my ancestors, I’ll also be on the lookout for beautiful mountain scenery inspired by the modernist landscapers who climbed with the Swiss Guides in the Canadian Rockies at the turn of the century. .
This is Shari Zisk-Feuz’s second post on her trip to Switzerland. You can read the first one here.
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