Gertie Wepsala and Peter Vajda on Mt Athabasca

Gertrude (Gertie) Wepsala, from Vancouver, was the Canadian Women’s Downhill Ski Champion through the late 1930s to early 1940s. During September 1939 she was summer training on Mt Athabasca in Jasper National Park in preparation for the 1940 Winter Olympics. Only about two weeks after these photos were taken, WWII broke out, cancelling the Olympics and ending Gertie’s dream. Peter Vajda was a Hungarian-born ski coach and mechanical engineer who designed the first ski lifts at Grouse Mountain and was involved in the early winter Olympic bids for the Vancouver/Whistler areas. Two of his grandchildren, Michael and Britt Janyk, from Whistler, were Canadian Olympic skiers.

Margaret Stock: “The Girl who Climbed Athabaska”

(written by Scott Rowed) In 1940, Harry was shooting publicity photos for the Jasper Park Lodge and looking to write a story about a girl who could climb mountains. He found the ideal candidate in an athletic 19-year old university student from Toronto, Margaret Stock, who was working at the JPL in the summer. He wrote to her: “Ever see a snowfield that makes Pyramid’s look like an ice cube… Ever have to cut your way around cornices as big as the Royal York and rope to get over blue-green streams chattering through the glacier ice?”

The team of four – Margaret, Swiss guide Ernie Niederer, skier Peter Vajda (see previous gallery) and Harry climbed Athabasca on a cloudless September day in 1940. The story was published in a national magazine with the title, “The Girl who Climbed Athabaska” (now spelled Athabasca).

Margaret earned her Master of Biology and worked as a biochemist at the Banting and Best Institute. She maintained a lifelong interest in the arts and sports and died in 2010, survived by her six sons and several grandchildren. In 2016 I attempted to contact her sons, a challenging task since they all had common first names and the last name “Wright”, and in the Toronto area with a population of over 6 million. After numerous phone calls and Facebook messages with some people ready to report me, thinking I was a stalker or Nigerian prince, I finally got a call back from her son, Douglas Wright. We’ve kept in touch and a few months ago mentioned that he and his mom had visited Gen and Harry at their home in Brisco, British Columbia, in 1980. The colour photo in this gallery was a Kodachrome slide my dad took at this time.

Ski Race on Mt Athabasca 1947

The Jim Brewster Memorial Race ran only for two years due to bad weather and logistics. The race was organized and run by the well-known mountain guide and photographer, Bruno Engler. The third-place finisher, Eddie Hunter, from Banff, in 2020 is still a strong skier and roller skier at age 94.