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Rocky Mountain Ramblers Association


In June 1956 the two year old Rocky Mountain Ramblers Association of Calgary was still a small backpacking club which was active from June to September and then went into hibernation until the following June. The hibernation was broken each December by the Annual General Meeting, a Sunday breakfast meeting in a downtown cafe.

Weekly meetings were held in John Hickey's bedroom in his parents' home with as few as 7 people. At the second meeting in June 1956, Wally Drew, a newcomer with considerable experience leading mountain trips, was appointed Day Trip Chairman, and regular day trips became a part of the Ramblers' repertoire. Wally's first one was to Aylmer Lookout where 12 Ramblers enjoyed the views and mountain sheep.

With backpacks planned for every second weekend plus regular day trips, getting to and from the mountains became quite a problem. The Trans-Canada Highway didn't exist yet and all traffic wound its way along the narrow, shoulderless Highway 1A at the speed of the slowest vehicle. It sometimes took three hours to drive home from Banff to Calgary even though Calgary had only 186,000 people then.

To add to the problem, few Ramblers had cars and so the driver usually had to pick up and deliver passengers at their doors. This could add up to an extra hour to each end of the trip for the driver. Needless to say, maximum use was made of each vehicle. A VW beetle would carry up to four or five people with packs.

This lack of transportation also limited the number of people on trips at times. Since space was allotted on a first come, first served basis for members and then guests, we didn't have much problem getting people to sign up promptly on Wednesday evenings.

The highlight of the summer was the Lake O'Hara-Moraine Lake backpack in August. On Saturday, the group drove to Wapta Lodge in Yoho Park and backpacked into Lake O'Hara meadows. The next morning the group split in two and one section lead by Tom Moffat, hiked to Moraine Lake while the other section, lead by Sandy Vair, returned to Wapta to drive the cars around to Moraine Lake. To cross Opabin Glacier, Tom's group roped up with 6 1/2-foot-tall Tom in the lead and Ron Smylie at the end. Rose Marie Niklaus, Margret Hartman, Gordie Cowan, Dudley Baker and Wally Drew were tied in between. They reported a spectacular trip.

This year, 1956, also saw the Ramblers' first ski tour. Again, Wally Drew was the instigator. "Why not switch from hiking boots to skis and ramble all year round?" he asked. On October 28, after an early snow storms Tom Moffat, Bob Tennant and Joe Vintcent skied with Wally into Elbow Lake in the Kananaskis. That was far enough. Without a base, the foot or so of new snow wasn't enough to prevent rocks from scraping skis and skins. In those days touring was done with downhill skis and boots, touring bindings and climbing skins.

By the end of 1956 membership was up to 17 and the club had awarded its first silver pin for outstanding leadership and service to Sandy Vair. Weekly meetings, which had ended in John Hickey's bedroom in September, started in the plush downtown board room of the Chamber of Commerce in December when Treasurer Reg Clark was elected President of the Calgary Junior Chamber of Commerce. And most important, the little club sometimes called "Hickey's Hikers", had grown beyond that image to become a year round, diversified outdoors club.

As a matter of record, the officers elected at the December Annual General Meeting were: Chairrman Sandy Vair; Vice-Chairman, Wally Drew; Secretary, Barbara Thompson; Treasurer, Reg Clark., Senior Trip Leader, Tom Moffat; Membership Chairman, Nancy Gay Stewart; and Program Chairman, Juan Corkan.


Wally Drew became the Club's first Winter Trips Chairman after the December 1956 meeting. Members now had the opportunity to enjoy another side of the majestic mountains: gliding through undisturbed snow among snow-draped peaks.

Tours into such places as the Sundance Valley, Cascade fire road, Sunshine, and Yoho Park, all led by Wally Drew, were basically exploratory, opening up some fine ski-touring areas for Ramblers in future years. The most popular tour was into Sunshine on March 24 with 10 skiers enjoying the excellent powder snow. "The views were better than the snow conditions", reported Ramblers on the last tour of the season, May 5, south of Kicking Horse Pass.

Easter weekend Sandy Vair - joined by Tom Moffat, Torn Thurston and Wally Drew - conducted a three-day ski trip based at Wapta Lake Lodge where we had the free use of a cabin. (The Ramblers were not yet into winter camping.)

In spite of largely novice skiers there was not a single injury that first season.

This fourth year of the Club's existence saw quite a few more "firsts". In the spring, evening programs began to develop from the need to help new people - then showing up at meetings - learn how to participate in Club activities safely. Sandy Vair, John Hickey and Tom Moffat spent a great deal of time and effort producing and delivering an excellent series of talks on equipment, map reading, trails, camp cookery, first aid, leadership and survival. The mimeographed notes given out at these lectures formed the basis of the leaders manual, which was subsequently enlarged and revised.

Weekly meetings were now composed of the program, which could be a talk on a pertinent subject by an authority, a slide show or some other entertainment, and the organization of the following weekend's trips.

In May the Ramblers acquired its first permanent headquarters in Ron Smylie's Alpine Sport Shop at 1026 - 16th Avenue, N.W.

Another first, the Club's newsletter, "The Pack Rat", came on board in June through the efforts of Wally Drew. Although "The Pack Rat" name was used since the first issue, the cover, still used today [in 1983. Shown below. - Webmaster], didn't appear until the October/November 1957 issue. The well equipped packrat, drawn by Lois Norton, was introduced in that issue by the caption, "Meet our newest member".

The old Packrat cover
The old Packrat cover

Crests were also designed and purchased. With membership at $5.00 per person, the Club was virtually moneyless, so several members formed a syndicate to finance the purchase of club crests. They were gradually reimbursed as the crests were sold.

During the 1957 hiking and backpacking season, Tom Moffat, Senior Trip Leader looked after organizing weekend trips and Wally Drew, Day Trips Chairman, was responsible for organizing one-day trips. We had only 5 trip leaders and four assistant leaders that summer of 1957. The trip leaders were Tom Moffat, Sandy Vair, Jim Clachrie, Wally Drew and Ron Smylie. The Assistant Leaders were Tom Thurston, Tom Bailey, Reg Clarke and Nancy Gay Stewart. However, membership that summer reached 34, double the total of the year before. Attendance at Wednesday meetings ran as high as 31.

Sandy Vair's trip up the south slope of Mount Eisenhower on May 12 found the ground crawling with ticks. On Wally's first trip to the Drumheller badlands some girls discovered the hazards of walking and sitting on prickly pear cactus. During the supper stop in Drumheller another girl dropped her purse in the ladies toilet.

Weekend tours went to such areas as Sunset Pass, Boat Encampment, Yoho Park, Shadow Lake and Nordegg.

John Hickey's weekend trip on June 1 and 2 turned out to be a lot longer than expected. Ten of us were intending to spend a weekend in Yoho Park but Yoho and Banff Parks were closed to all off-highway travel due to the fire hazard. So we drove to Golden, B.C., then 95 miles northwest down the Columbia River to Boat Encampment on the top of the Big Bend. The effort was rewarded by fair warm weather and a nice campsite beneath large cedar and hemlock trees on the banks of the Columbia. The super abundance of mosquitoes and dust were the only detraction from that trip into new territory.

On the Yoho trip, four members of the group took a long, hard route down to Emerald Lake. After crossing Burgess Pass, the trail disappeared and they spent 4 1/2 hours bushwhacking down a canyon to the lake where they were met by a search party on horseback organized by Sandy Vair, the Leader, and Juan Corkin. Was that the trip that started the Ramblers bushwhacking reputation?

Betty Guenther, Nancy Gay Stewart, Chris Fearn and Ted de Waal joined Wally Drew's Nordegg trip, which produced another search and rescue incident. Chris Fearn strayed from the group while hiking north of Nordegg. After searching for her unsuccessfully for 1 1/2 hours, the rest of the group elicited the help of three forest rangers from Nordegg. She had been missing three hours when she was found eating wild strawberries. She maintained she wasn't lost, just bewildered; she knew where she was, but not where the car or the rest of the group was.

On Aug 18, 6 Ramblers took to the water like ducks in a swimming excursion to Pine Lake southeast of Red Deer led by Wally Drew.

Tom Moffat led an ascent of Mount Eisenhower on August 24 and 25 in cloud and snow. He added to his lunch by eating a hard candy he had left in the summit cairn a year before.

Two holiday trips were organized, one to Skoki, which is described under "Anecdotes", and the other to Elizabeth Rummel's Sunburst Lake camp in Assiniboine Park. The latter trip undertaken by Ken Baillie, Tom Thurston and Sandy Vair, began with a long drive over the very rough road from Canmore to Spray Lake and along the lake to the trailhead. The 18-mile backpack went in over Assiniboine Pass and out over Wonder Pass.

A hike through Devil's Gap to Lake Minnewanka on October 20 ended the hiking season, while skiing practice on the Bowness Hill, October 27, started the winter activities. During November and December the ski program was plagued by inadequate snow, so on December 8, Wally Drew organized the club's first ice skating trip. Seven Ramblers drove to Innis Lake southwest of Olds to skate on snow-covered ice.

1957 was also the year John Hickey, founder of the Rocky Mountain Ramblers Association, resigned from the executive and all other club duties for personal reasons. In the third issue of "The Pack Rat", fellow members extol his hard work and leadership that founded, sustained and built the club during those early, critical years. He was awarded the club's second silver pin for these accomplishments.

It was also in the summer of 1957 that the R.M.R.A. went on record as opposing the discriminatory practice of running a bus into Lake O'Hara for lodge guests only. We felt that the bus service should either be discontinued or made available to everyone. Sandy Vair sent an appropriate letter to Ottawa.

Dorothea Spiller, one of our more active members, married Bruno Meyer, a non-Rambler, in November 1957 and they settled in Prince George, B.C. A few years later when Brian Looker also moved to Prince George he and Dorothea formed the Caledonian Ramblers there. The club was named after our Rocky Mountain Ramblers and now has a membership of about 80.

A short-lived tradition went by the wayside in 1957 when the Annual General Meeting was switched from a December Sunday breakfast meeting to a Saturday night meeting combined with a banquet. Twenty-two of the 38 members enjoyed a turkey dinner before getting down to the business of the meeting.

Tom Moffat was presented with a framed picture of himself in recognition of his several years of work in the Ramblers. The membership confirmed the bylaws setting up the Leaders Council and Grand Council and changing the financial year to run from October 1 to September 30.

The new executive elected at this meeting was: Chairman Sandy Vair; Vice-Chairman and Pack Rat Editor, Wally Drew; Secretary, Mary Hodgkinson; Treasurer, Bob Norton; Members-at-Large, Jean Nicholls and Bob Tennant, who handled Wednesday evening programs.

At the December executive meeting where the club decided to make its own backpacking tents under the direction of Sandy Vair, the following were added to the Executive: Nancy Gay Stewart and Barbara Thompson (Committee Chairmen) and Tom Moffat (Senior Trip Leader).

By the winter of 1957-1958 the Ramblers had ski tour leaders as differentiated from the regular or summer leaders. Those first ski tour leaders were Wally Drew (Winter Program Chairman), Tom Moffat and Sandy Vair, and Assistants: Jean Nicholls and Bob Tennant.