Calgary·Photos

Retreating glaciers captivate Vaux family for more than 100 years

The glaciers of Western Canada have fascinated an American family for generations.

Family descendant continues photo project into the 21st century

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      The glaciers of Western Canada have fascinated an American family for generations. The Vaux family began to document the retreat of the enormous masses of ice in the Canadian Rockies, which had already begun in the late 1800s.

      Henry Vaux Jr., who carried on the glacier-watching mission of his ancestors more than 100 years later, recreating many of the photographs himself, spoke to the Homestretch this week.

      His photography will be featured at a summer-long photo exhibit that kicked off this week at Banff's Whyte Museum.

      Vaux was struck by his ancestors' photos, noting that even before mass industrialization the glaciers had already begun to recede.

      Vaux became inspired to recapture the glaciers in a new series of photographs in 1997. Within weeks of starting the project, he says he "was pretty well hooked." He worked on it for the next 16 years.

      Sometimes it could be a bit tricky or very easy to find the exact spot where the original photo had been taken because the landscape had changed with roadways and railways.

      In photo after photo, the receding of the glaciers was evident.

      "The glaciers, almost without exception, have shrunk, substantially," said Vaux. 

      Peyto Glacier is a dramatic example, he says. It's receded by about two kilometres.

      A book and a story about the photographs called Legacy in Time has also been published.

      People are fascinated by the topic, says Vaux.

      "The response has been very positive. I guess it has triggered off quite a debate among some circles of people about the existence or absence of climatic warning," he said.

      He sits in the middle on the debate. 

      "I am after all a scientist — the evidence is pretty incontrovertible."

      But he adds "it's probably due, in part, to a warming cycle. So, I'm reluctant to attribute all of the glacial wasting to human activity."

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