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Q: Avalanche in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, July 1955 ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Avalanche in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, July 1955
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: shenfelder-ga
List Price: $100.00
Posted: 26 Oct 2003 13:02 PST
Expires: 25 Nov 2003 13:02 PST
Question ID: 269867
Seven boys were killed, and several injured, in an avalance in Banff
National Park in July 1955.  The inquest was held in Banff on August
10, 1955. I have a copy of the minutes of the inquest, but would be
interested in additional information about the tragedy, such as
newspaper reports and government actions other than the inquest (e.g.,
were safety procedures at national parks changed.

Request for Question Clarification by bobbie7-ga on 26 Oct 2003 13:07 PST
This is a duplicate question.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 28 Oct 2003 13:15 PST

Do you mean for this question to still be open, even with the other
version of it answered already?

I have access to quite a number of newspaper articles about the
avalanche, if you are interested, and would be glad to post
information here about how you can access them online yourself.  If
this is not of interest, however, I would suggest cancelling this
question to avoid any confusion.

And as a reminder, you can change the list price of your question at
any time, before it has been answered.


Clarification of Question by shenfelder-ga on 28 Oct 2003 16:26 PST
I certainly would like all the information that I can get.  I am,
however, quite inexperienced at this.  How to I go about paying for
two answers?  I would be happy to create a second question, but that
would probably lead to confusion, too.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 28 Oct 2003 16:33 PST
Hello shenfelder,

Thanks for your reply, and thanks too for your patience, as we work
things out.

You may not be aware of this, but you posted the same question twice. 
The first one has already been answered (very expertly, I might add),
and you have paid a fee of $100 for that answer. have another question (this one) still active which is,
again, offering $100.

So, you do not need to post another question, since this current one
is still active.  However, you may or may not want to pay $100 for
this second question...that's entirely up to you.

I just wanted to confirm with you that you do, indeed, want to have
your second question answered (which it seems you do), and that you
still want to offer $100 for new information (which you haven't
commented on yet).

Google Answers CAN be a mite confusing at times, so don't hesitate to
ask me any questions you might have.  But if you're OK with my
answering your question for the current fee, just let me know, and
I'll post an answer for you.


Request for Question Clarification by chromedome-ga on 29 Oct 2003 20:57 PST
Hello, Shenfelder:

I live in the city of Edmonton, Alberta, home to both Alberta's
provincial archives (not presently searchable on-line, but close to
where I live); and to the provincial legislature.  I am, therefore,
uniquely situated to source specific information and documentation on
this decades-old tragedy.

Reviewing Umiat's answer to your other question, it would certainly
seem that she's brought you up-to-date with the current state of
avalance management in the parks system. What specific information do
you still wish to find?  I would be more than happy to source
documentation for you through the city's "offline" resources.


Subject: Re: Avalanche in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada, July 1955
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 31 Oct 2003 07:08 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello again,

I've been collecting information from old newspaper articles about the
tragedy in Banff, and I have enough material now to post an answer to
your question.  Since you commented that you would like to see the
newspaper material, but haven't specified which ones, in particular, I
choose some of the most interesting material to quote from, and
summarize here.

There are copyright restrictions on just how much material I can
actually excerpt from the articles, so your best bet would be to look
them over yourself  (there are about 70 articles relating to this
incident).  I've included instructions, below, to guide you through
the process of accessing the information yourself.

If anything here is unclear, or if you need additional information,
just let me know by posting a Request for Clarification, and I'll be
happy to assist you further.



In the excerpts that follow, I've concentrated on the accounts of the
accident as reported in "The Lethbridge Herald", a newspaper in
Lethbridge Alberta.

Wednesday, July 13, 1955
page 1


They came down from the mountain slung in death over the backs of pack
horses -- seven young boys who heeded too late the warnings rumbled
high above the timberline by the never-melting snow...

...There were four survivors, two of them hurt severely [NOTE from
pafalafa-ga: contrary to other accounts of no injuries].  The other
seven--the oldest 16 and the youngest 13 -- died one by one as they
lay hurt and far from help with freezing rain and hail pounding the
11,636-foot peak.

...The leader of the boys, who did not make the climb, said he was
unable to learn beforehand from park officials what the climbing
situation was and had  "no idea such an avalanche condition existed."

...The 29-year-old school teacher said he "had no idea such an
avalanche condition existed.'  He said he could not find anyone to
give information on the condition of the mountain.'


By the way, the Banff tragedy, though appearing on page 1, wasn't the
lead story.  There were a fair number of dramatic events occurring in
the supposedly tranquil 1950's, including:

--the lead story, "AIR AND SEA TRAGEDIES CLAIM 30"

and other front page stories about a prison riot in Prince Albert, the
hanging of a woman and mother in London for murder, and the return of
three Americans who had defected to Red China.

Other avalanche stories from the Lethbridge Herald include:


Thursday, July 14, 1955
page 1


The avalanche-death of seven boys green at mountain climbing has
spurred demands for tighter climbing regulations in the Canadian

...Inspector J. H. Harris, head of the RC1MP Calgary subdivision which
covers Banff, expressed the hope regulations will be tightened. Under
existing regulations, there is nothing to prevent the inexperienced
from tackling difficult slopes but climbers are liable to a $500 fine
if they fail to register a planned expedition with the park warden's

...Park Superintendent B. I. M. Strong said the leader of the school
boy expedition did not register the Mount Temple climb.  An inquest
into the death of the youngsters, members of the Wilderness Camp of
Philadelphia, will open here Friday.


Friday, August 12, 1955

Park Officials Are Cleared In Banff Tragedy 

A coroner's jury says seven American schoolboys who died in a Rocky
mountain avalanche July 11 were ill-equipped and lacking in proper
leadership. The jury returned the verdict Thursday after being told by
a Banff National Park warden that the amateur climbers went completely
against mountaineering principles in attempting to reach the summit of
11,636-foot Mount Temple.  "We find that all leadership and
equipment...was inadequate for this type of climbing," the jury said
in a verdict read by foreman Cyril Paris of Banff.

...Bertram Pittaway, chief park warden and a specialist in mountain
rescue work, told the jury he had talked with William Oeser and Oliver
Donald Dickerson after the accident and they were "definitely not
leaders."  "In an emergency a leader should go to the fore and do
everything he can," Pittaway said.  Oeser,a Baltimore school teacher,
began the climb but dropped out because of a blistered foot, giving
the boys permission to go on.  Dickerson, of Philadelphia,did not take


Similar stories were reported in American newspapers as well, but I
did not see any details in these that were particularly different from
the Canadian reporting.

Oddly enough, I did not come across any retrospective or anniversary
stories about the event in the years that followed, although I
certainly came across many reports of other avalanche accidents and
deaths in the Banff area.


The newspaper stories referenced above can all be found at a wonderful
-- but sometimes infuriating -- site known as

You can search this site free of charge to identify articles about any
topic of interest, but to actually see the articles themselves you
must register at the site and pay a fee.

You must also have a program installed known as Adobe Acrobat Reader
in order to properly view the newspaper pages.
will actually check your computer to make sure you have Adobe
installed, and if not, will step you through the installation process.

Registration at the site is fairly straightforward.  Just click on the
"register" button near the top of the page, and fill in the relevant
name, address, credit card information.

You will have to select a membership option -- you can sign on for a
one-day pass ($4.95), or for a week ($14.95), or month ($19.95) or
quarterly ($44.95) or a full year ($149.95).

After signing in, you will be able to access images of original
newspaper's a lot of fun, and remarkably interesting.

But, as I said above, it can also be somewhat infuriating.  The pages
are fairly large files.  If you have high-speed internet access, they
load up fairly quickly, but if  you're on a dial up modem, then click
to download a page, and go get yourself a cup of coffee, as you'll be
in for a bit of a wait.

The site is also very finicky in terms of is easy to
miss articles if you don't search for them in precisely the right way.

To search on your topic, I did the following:


--Under the search box, click on "advanced"

--On the advanced search page, notice the box labeled "Find results
with:".  Click on the arrow here to bring up a pull-down list of
options.  I selected the option "All of  the words".  You may want to
play around with other options later on, but I'd stick with "All of
the words" for starters.

--In the search box, enter the two words, "banff" "avalanche" (without
the quotation marks).

--LEAVE THE DATE OPTIONS SET TO "ALL YEARS".  Don't try to search for
selected just doesn't work here for some reason. 
Similarly, don't try to select a specific newspaper or city to search

--Click "Submit" and the stie should return a list of close to 100
articles on avalanches in Banff.

The initial list you get will be sorted according to "hits" -- the
articles that have the largest number of search terms in them will
appear at the top of the list.  You can re-sort the list by date, or
by any of the other columns by clicking on the column header (either
Date, City, Country, State, or Title).


I've given you a lot to chew on here...I hope it's not too much at one
sitting.  But like I said above, if you need any assistance at all --
or if you'd just like some additional information -- don't hesitate to
ask, and I'm at your service.

Enjoy your browsing!


Request for Answer Clarification by shenfelder-ga on 11 Nov 2003 11:30 PST
Thanks for gathering the information.  I'll follow up on your
suggestions.  If you do feel that you could do anything else yourself,
let me give you two additional pieces of information.  First, I
believe that the tragedy was reported in Life Magazine, but I have
been unable to get any response myself from that source--possibly
because I simply don't know the right moves.  Second, I am
particularly interested in one of the boys who was killed:  Billy
Watts, who was the oldest.  He was my wife's brother.  Recently, we
got a copy of the inquest minutes, which were eye-opening.  They
dispelled many mistaken reports that my wife's family had received.  I
decided to pursue the matter further so that I could put the whole
thing together.  Anyhow, if anything else does pop up, I'd appreciate
hearing about it.


Clarification of Answer by pafalafa-ga on 11 Nov 2003 12:23 PST
Hello again.  Thanks so much for the generous rating, and also for
teling a bit of your story...I must admit I was curious about your
interest/connection to the Banff tragedy.

Here is some information on additional articles you should look at.  I
don't have access to the full articles myself, but a good librarian
should be able to assist you in tracking them down:

Tragedy on the peak [Mount Temple]. Newsweek v. 46 (July 25 1955) p. 47-8
Needless summer tragedy. Life v. 39 (July 25 1955) p. 32
Death in the snow on Mount Temple. Time v. 66 (July 25 1955) p. 28

Braun, R.A. When the avalanches roar. Science Digest v. 38 (November
1955) p. 73-5  [this one isn't clearly about Mt. Temple, though it
seems likely it would have some information about it].

And you might also want to visit this site, where you can buy old
copies of LIFE magazine at about $20 a pop:

Hope this helps.  Good luck in your efforts.

shenfelder-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
The response was very helpful.  I am impressed with the willingness of
the researchers to extend themselves.

There are no comments at this time.

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