The Inside Track - Lake Maligne

When Tour Manager, Yvonne, visited Canada it changed her life forever. Here she tells the story of Mary Schaffer Warren, the explorer credited with the discovery of Maligne Lake in the Rocky Mountains.

I have worked as a Tour Manager for about 30 years, taking little breaks to travel independently, train as a teacher, manage a ski resort, and work in an office. Needless to say, I soon saw sense and went ‘back on the road’ again.

I always wanted to travel. I can vividly remember sitting on the beach in Weston-super-Mare, with my father, asking him how far ‘abroad’ was and when I would be old enough to go.

Many years later, I travelled to Canada and instantly fell in love with the place. Over the years, I have been fortunate to explore the country from east to west and can honestly say that wherever you travel, Canada will beguile you.

If I could go back in time, I would love to meet some of Canada’s great women. Since the 1800s, many brave ladies have changed the face of this great nation and one of my favourites is Mary Schaffer Warren. Born in 1861 in Pennsylvania, she began her career as a botanist and after marrying Dr Charles Schaffer, travelled to the Canadian Rockies with him and illustrated a book on regional wildflowers. It was much later that she became an explorer, writer and photographer and was one of the first single women of her time to explore beyond the comforts of her luxury hotel. During the early 1900s, exploration was a male domain. Luckily, she was persistent, tough and ambitious!

Amongst other things, she built solid relationships with many of Canada’s First Nations people. One of her closest friends was Sampson Beaver, who helped her search for a lake in the far north with a hand-drawn map. Now known as one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the world, her journey from Field in British Columbia to find this elusive lake was no small task! Today, the journey takes around four hours, in 1908, it took six months of backcountry travel.

Can you guess the name of this now famous, lake? It is, of course, Maligne Lake and nowadays, thousands of visitors flock to see its azure-blue waters. When they see the lake for the first time, the words that spring to mind are probably unique, magical and awe-inspiring. I have seen people speechless and moved to tears by its beauty.

Schaffer was probably the first white woman to see some of Canada’s lakes with her own eyes. She described Lake Louise as a ‘pearl’ and Lake Maligne as ‘a whole string of pearls’. Over the years, Mary returned many times to survey Maligne Lake for the Geographical Board of Canada.

I always say to my groups that ‘time spent in the mountains, is not deducted from the rest of your life’. It’s a saying I wholeheartedly believe to be true. Every time I go to the Rockies, I see something new, a mountain in a different light, a rarely seen animal or bird, a different lake. The hikes are incredible, and most of the time you have the trails to yourself. Last time I was there, I saw a mother bear with her two cubs and two bald eagles. Sightings like this are not rare.

People have been living in Canada’s national parks for around 11,000 years and today, there are vast areas of wilderness that probably haven’t changed in all that time.

We can take you there

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