October is women’s history month, and sometimes this gets lost in all the fun around Halloween. So before the month gets much further ahead, I wanted to give a nod to one of British Columbia’s legendary women—Phyllis Munday.
This is an excerpt from Sensational Vancouver:
A reporter once asked Phyllis Munday if she’d ever been really frightened during all her years of climbing mountains. “Thunderstorms,” she told him. “I hated thunderstorms.”
What she didn’t mention was the time she saved husband Don Munday’s life from a grizzly bear by charging at it with an ice axe; when she regularly carted 60 pounds of backpack over flood swollen creeks; the times she had to avoid quicksand and avalanches and plunges into hidden crevasses.
“It was just something you had to do to get to the mountain,” she once said. “Once you got above the line it was beautiful.”
Phyl met Don Munday, a writer and a wounded soldier at a hospital where she worked. She discovered that they shared a love of mountains and married him in 1920. Two hours after their 9:00 a.m. wedding they were in their climbing gear and trekking up one of the local mountains. The birth of Edith the following year didn’t slow them down at all, they simply strapped her to Don’s back and kept on climbing.
In the 1920s, the B.C. coastal mountains were a vast, unknown and virtually unmapped area. Mount Waddington, the highest peak in the province at over 13,000 feet was unnamed and undiscovered. The Mundays headed up three expeditions in an attempt to conquer the mountain, and while they never reached the summit, they opened it up so that others could.
The Munday’s lived first in a tent on Grouse Mountain. Later they built a cabin, thinking nothing of scrambling up and down the mountain whenever they needed supplies. When Edith turned six they bought a small frame house on Tempe Crescent.
It wasn’t exactly on a mountain top, but it was close.
“We bought it for the view,” Phyl said. “It was such a blow to come off the mountain. We thought that at least here we’d have some of the same marvellous outlook. We see all of Vancouver spread before our feet, and over to Vancouver Island, I can see Mount Arrowsmith. To the west, Horseshoe Bay, the Lions, and the Tantalus Range way in the distance.”
Don died in 1950 and Phyl lived in the house for the next four decades, surrounded by the photographs that she had taken of her mountains.
Among her many accomplishments, Phyl was the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Robson.
Phyl was commemorated with a postage stamp in 1998 and received an honorary doctorate in law from the University of Victoria. Shortly after she received the Order of Canada in 1973, she told a reporter: “I haven’t a clue why they gave me the Canada medal. I must admit it surprised me because there must be hundreds of people far more worthy than I.”
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