Mary Schäffer Warren

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Mary T. S. Schäffer Warren
Old Indian Trails - Nibs and His Mistress (cropped).jpg
Mary Townsend Sharples

1861 (1861)
Died1939 (aged 77–78)
Known forPainting, photography, writing
Charles Schäffer
(m. 1890⁠–⁠1903)

Billy Warren
(m. 1915)

Mary Schäffer Warren (1861–1939) was an American-Canadian naturalist, illustrator, photographer, and writer. She was known for her experiences in the Canadian Rockies in the early 20th century.[1]


Warren was born Mary Townsend Sharples in 1861 in West Chester, Pennsylvania.[2] She studied flower painting with George Cochran Lambdin.[2]

Illustration from "Alpine flora of the Canadian Rocky Mountains"

In 1889 Sharples embarked on her first visit to the Canadian Rockies, accompanied by her fellow art student, Mary Vaux.[3][4] In 1890 she married Dr. Charles Schäffer, an amateur botanist, whom she had met the previous year at Glacier House, the Canadian Pacific Railway's hotel in the Selkirk Mountains.[3] The couple would spend summers and autumns traveling in the Canadian Rockies. Their winters were spent in Philadelphia.[2] Charles Schäffer died in 1903, as did Mary's father and mother.[5]

In 1904, Schäffer returned to the Canadian Rockies with her friend Mary "Mollie" Adams[3][6] determined to complete a botanical guide that her husband had started.[2] To complete this project Schäffer collected botanical specimens and learned photography.[3] That year, she collected specimens for the University of Pennsylvania.[7] In 1907 Alpine Flora of the Canadian Rocky Mountains was published, with text by Stewardson Brown and drawings and photographs by Schäffer.[8]

Upon completion of her botanical work, Schäffer and Adams decided that they wanted to explore further into the mountains. They convinced, a mountain guide named William "Billy" Warren[9] and fellow guide Sidney Unwin to provide the outfit and knowledge necessary to try finding "Chaba Imne," a lake in an unexplored mountain valley that they had heard of from the Stoney First Nations people. As recorded in Mary's book, Old Indian Trails of the Canadian Rockies, a map drawn by Samson Beaver led to the first recorded visit to Jasper's Maligne Lake in 1908, which Mary describes as “an entire string of pearls.” Throughout her travels she continued to take photographs that she would hand-colour upon her return home and use to encourage others to travel in the Canadian Rockies.[10]

Tour Boat named the "Mary Schaffer" on the lake that she first recorded, Maligne Lake.

Mary's inexperience at surveying took its toll. Knowing full well that media attention awaited her return to Edmonton, she struggled through an initial false start followed by a loss of the surveying spool overboard. After nearly a month's wait for a new spool to be sent from Toronto, she was finally able to complete an accurate survey. Dr. Dowling encouraged her to send her measurements and map, complete with the names she had given various features around the lake, to the Geographical Board in Ottawa. Despite some opposition, Mary’s names were retained.

Mary also joined the lobby to have Maligne Lake included in Jasper National Park. Had it not been for her, Maligne Lake may not have been preserved for the benefit of future generations.

In 1912 Schäffer moved permanently to Banff, Alberta. In 1915 she married her longtime friend and mountain guide William "Billy" Warren.[9]

Mary Schäffer Warren published articles and books about her explorations of the Rockies.[2] Many have been collected in This Wild Spirit: Women in the Rocky Mountains of Canada.[11]

She died in 1939 in Banff.[2]

Written work[edit]

Mary Schäffer Warren published many articles and books describing her time exploring the Rockies:

In 1907 Schäffer published a book titled Old Indian Trails of the Canadian Rockies which she wrote throughout her expedition through, what is now, Banff and Jasper National Park.[12]

In 1908 she wrote a book titled Among the sources of the Saskatchewan and Athabasca rivers.[13]


In 1909, a mountain in Yoho National Park was named Mount Schaffer in her honor.[14] In 2003, the University of Alberta named their newest student residence Schäffer Hall as a tribute to Schäffer Warren.[15]

Janice Sanford Beck is the author of “No Ordinary Woman: The Story of Mary Schäffer Warren” (Rocky Mountain Books, 2001). Her latest works, “Life of the Trail 1” and “Life of the Trail 2”, are collaborations with Emerson Sanford that retrace the footsteps of early travelers (including David Thompson, Sir James Hector, and Mary Schäffer) in and around eastern Banff National Park and northern Yoho National Park.[5]


  1. ^ "Mary Schäffer Warren in the Canadian Rockies". Peaks & People. Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Warren, Mary T. S. Schäffer". Canadian Women Artists History Initiative. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Birrell, Dave. "Schaffer, Mary". PeakFinder. Archived from the original on 10 April 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Mary Schaffer Warren". historiccalgary. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Mary Schäffer Warren: Mountain Woman Extraordinaire". Experience the Mountain Parks. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  6. ^ "Mollie Adams Diary". Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  7. ^ Skidmore, Colleen (2017). Searching for Mary Schäffer: Women Wilderness Photography. University of Alberta. ISBN 978-1-77212-298-5. Retrieved 3 August 2020.
  8. ^ Brown, Stewardson (1907). Alpine Flora of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. New York: G.P. Putnam.
  9. ^ a b Birrell, Dave. "Warren, Billy". PeakFinder. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  10. ^ "Mary Schäffer Warren in the Canadian Rockies". Mary Schäffer Warren in the Canadian Rockies. Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  11. ^ Skidmore, Colleen, ed. (2006). This Wild Spirit: Women in the Rocky Mountains of Canada (1st ed.). Edmonton: University of Alberta Press. ISBN 0888644663.
  12. ^ Kirstin Bouwsema. "A Passion for Wilderness: Understanding the Mountain Travels of Mary T.S. Schaffer Warren, 1889–1939". Retrieved 7 October 2020.
  13. ^ "Among the sources of the Saskatchewan and Athab... - Canadiana Online". Retrieved 2020-10-02.
  14. ^ Birrell, Dave. "Mount Schaffer". PeakFinder. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  15. ^ "Schäffer Hall | Residence Service University of Alberta". Residence Services University of Alberta. 2018. Retrieved September 1, 2018.

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