This article first appeared in our August 2017 Newsletter
Puzzle Pieces Found with Acquisition of Munday Negatives
By Don Bourdon, Curator, Images and Paintings Royal BC Museum and Archives
With generous financial support from the Friends, the BC Archives recently acquired the missing pieces of a puzzle. As a teen, Phyllis James photographed family, friends and events in booming Vancouver prior to the Great War. As an adult, Phyllis (1894-1990) became a renowned mountaineer alongside husband Don Munday (1890-1950). She was awarded the Order of Canada in 1972 for her work with the Girl Guides of Canada and St. John Ambulance, as well as for her mountaineering career; Phyllis Munday made nearly 100 ascents, including 40 first ascents, and was among the first women to climb Mount Robson.
The Mundays left a “mountain” of records preserved in the BC Archives but, strangely, few photographs from Phyllis’s youth seemed to have survived. Now, a trove of her circa 1909-1913 photographs – 34 files containing 324 original flexible film negatives – have been purchased from a collector who spotted the intact group at a collectibles fair. With the Friends’ support, this accession helps to complete the Munday family fonds. These photographs now form part of PR-0511. Dr. Kathryn Bridge, author of A Passion for Mountains: The Lives of Don and Phyllis Munday (2006) and Phyllis Munday: Mountaineer (2002) enthused that these negatives
reveal the childhood, adolescence and early adulthood of BC’s premier female mountaineer and are not duplicated in the material already held, but indeed complement the records, covering events only previously documented in audio interviews. The James family and friends are the subjects of the photographs. In some cases Phyl is in the shot, in others she clearly is the photographer. The images include the only known images of Phyl’s growing up years in the Kootenays and the family’s early years in Vancouver (2 different houses). The group shots show her parents clearly for the first time, and also her young brother and sister. Tennis shots appear to be at the Brockton Point courts where Phyl’s dad was a trophy winner. Phyl registered herself and her sister as boy scouts along with her brother because there was no girl guides program yet. I’ve never seen photographic evidence of this until now.
Munday was a prolific photographer. Researchers will use her early photographs to explore Munday’s formative outdoor activities and her view of family, friends and the emerging city. The photographs provide insights into how youth used photography at a time when it was still considered the preserve of adults. Thanks to the Friends of the BC Archives, a puzzle has been solved.