Don Beers began his hiking career in the early 1950s under the tutelage of Leonard Leacock, the well-known music composer and instructor at Mount Royal College, who may well lay claim to being the earliest recreational hiker in the Canadian Rockies. Many of Don’s later trips were with wife Keitha (who often served as a colourful foreground for his photos) and long-time friend Lance Camp.
When Bart Robinson and I were setting out to create the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide in 1970, Don Beers was already entering his third decade as a hiker and climber in the mountain parks. I’m guessing he might have published the first trail guide to the parks had he not been devoted to raising a family and his teaching career.
But Don did finally publish his first trail guide with Rocky Mountain Books in 1981, The Magic of Lake O’Hara. It was a small 96-page paperback describing the hikes, history, flora and fauna of that popular hiking area, and the first trail guide in the Canadian Rockies illustrated with colour photographs.
Don really hit his stride as an author in 1989 with The Wonder of Yoho, a larger format book that was published in hardcover and lavishly illustrated with his exceptional colour photographs. This book also revealed his love of history, and it devoted an extra 20 pages to the exploration, development and place names of Yoho National Park.
The Wonder of Yoho would be the first in a series of larger format guides, and all subsequent editions would be self-published both in hardcover and paperback through Highline Publishing: The World of Lake Louise (1991), Banff-Assiniboine: A Beautiful World (1993) and Jasper-Robson: A Taste of Heaven (1996).
By concentrating on specific parks, these editions provide dozens of hiking options beyond the well-marked trails, stuff found nowhere else and unknown to anyone except Don and his readers. And if you check out the acknowledgements page, you soon realize there’s hardly anyone of note he hasn’t known or interviewed.
But the photographic coverage and its quality is what I find absolutely stunning. (Is there anywhere in these parks that Don hasn’t been?) And when you consider there is scarcely a photo made under adverse weather conditions, that means he stayed in these locations until the weather cleared or was there on numerous occasions. Nowhere else, in books or on the internet, will you find anything that approaches his comprehensive coverage.
And though the books boast well over 100 excellent colour images each (nearly 200 in Jasper-Robson alone), they contain an equal number of black & white photos, including some very rare historical images.
Pardon me if I rave on. Quite simply, we will never see books on the mountain parks like these again. Never! Unfortunately, today’s book industry doesn’t even consider labours of love like these nor does it invest in quality colour reproduction on this scale (Manitoba’s Friesen Printers should be proud of the work it did on these books).
Don’s Yoho and Lake Louise books are no longer in print. However, there are still copies of Banff-Assiniboine and Jasper-Robson available at a handful of retail outlets in the Rockies (try The Viewpoint bookstore in Banff). Whether you’re a hiker or not, if you don’t have copies of Don Beers books in your library, you can’t be serious about your love of the Canadian Rockies.