Mary Schäffer Warren
Mary is showcased by Patty Bretin
Mary Schäffer Warren holds a dear place in Canada’s history. Her notoriety is marked by the many curations of her life and her works. Collections and exhibits are found in The Whyte Museum (Banff) and the Glenbow Museum (Calgary). Her life is popular subject matter in many written works, most notably “No Ordinary Woman: The Story of Mary Schäffer Warren” by Janice Sanford Beck (2006). Warren published articles about her explorations of the Rockies and many have been collected in “This Wild Spirit: Women in the Rocky Mountains of Canada”.
Warren was born Mary Townsend Sharples in 1861 in West Chester Pennsylvania. She was the daughter of a wealthy Quaker family and was privileged to study botanical painting under a renowned teacher.
Anxious to experience the wild landscapes of the Rockies, Sharples first traveled to the Canadian Rockies in 1989, where she met and later married amateur botanist Dr. Charles Schäffer. The couple spent summers and autumns exploring the Canadian Rockies. Their winters were spent in Philadelphia. In 1903, a small pox outbreak took Charles Schäffer as well as Mary's parents.
In 1904, Schäffer returned to the Canadian Rockies. Certain that her passion would help her overcome her grief, Mary returned to Banff in 1904. She continued to work on a botanical guidebook that her husband had started. Schäffer collected botanical specimens, produced illustrations and learned the emerging art of photography. In 1907 her drawings and photographs were published in Alpine Flora of the Canadian Rocky Mountains together with text by the renowned botanist Stewardson Brown.
In 1912 Schäffer moved permanently to Banff Alberta. In 1915 she married her longtime friend and legendary mountain guide William "Billy" Warren. Mary Warren died in 1939; Billy Warren later died in 1943. They rest side by side in the Old Banff Cemetery, within a short walk of Mary’s house “Tarry a While”. Today, her house is owned and preserved by Banff’s Whyte Museum and operates as a bed and breakfast.