Local resident Dr. Bob Lampard was in Calgary recently to donate materials related to his extensive research into the life of a renowned late Rotarian.
An honorary member of the Calgary Rotary Club, Lampard has written about and studied the life of James Wheeler Davidson, considered one of the most important Rotarians of the last century. He passed away in 1933.
In 2003, Lampard led 25 Rotarians and friends on the first recorded ascent of Mt. Davidson, after he discovered the name of the mountain, which had been approved in 1935, had not been added to the typographical maps. Thus it had remained unrecognized for decades.
Scaling the mountain was a personal highlight for Lampard, and made his donation to the University of Calgary that much more meaningful.
His donation included materials he gathered over the years as he examined the life and times of Davidson. From his landmark climb of Mt. Davidson, he also donated a hat that was signed by most of the participants on that venture plus a Canadian flag.
“I donated all my research materials – two boxes of files that I’ve accumulated,” he said. He also donated Rotarian magazines dating back to 1915 plus annual ‘proceedings’ or minutes of Club meetings from 1910 until now.
“It’s a huge step forward in the Davidson story because it brings together about 95 per cent of the material about him,” said Lampard. Over the years, the Davidson family has also donated artifacts and documents to various museums including one located in Tai Pai, the Prince of Wales Museum in Yellowknife, the Hudson Bay Archives in Winnipeg, the National Public Archives of the United States, Calgary’s Glenbow Museum and the B.C. Museum of Anthropology.
“The artifacts from the family are invaluable.”
Davidson made an incredible three trips around the world – all the more remarkable as that was such a rarity in his day. He was passionate about meeting people, and also about helping to establish Rotary Clubs internationally.
Davidson joined the Rotary Club of Calgary in 1914, and later became known as the ‘Marco Polo of Rotary’ by extending Rotary to Australia, New Zealand and Asia. In 1928, the Davidsons embarked on a 30-month journey that chartered 23 Rotary Clubs in 12 countries.
Originally from Minnesota, Davidson traveled with the Peary expedition to Greenland in 1893-94, reported on the Japanese takeover of Formosa in 1895, served as U.S. Consul in Formosa, Manchuria, and Shanghai, surveyed the new Trans Siberian Railway in 1903, and wrote Formosa: Past and Present.
When Davidson and his family settled in Calgary, he played a leading role in land development in southern Alberta.
Two years after his death, a mountain peak just north of Lake Minnewanka was named Mt. Davidson in his honour. But as mentioned earlier, it was a designation that was mistakenly overlooked for decades until Lampard brought it to light.
In the meantime, Lampard continues to be inspired by the ‘larger than life’ Davidson.
“He was a big man, but he was a youth at heart,” said Lampard, adding there virtually wasn’t a period of Davidson’s life when he wasn’t working towards achieving some sort of goal. He was also a loyal friend.
“People looked at him as a friend for life.” Hundreds of telegrams and messages poured in when folks around the world learned of Davidson’s death. “His love in life was making new friends.”
The University of Calgary collection provides a vivid glimpse into this remarkable life. Handwritten notes and sketches document his participation in the Peary Expedition. There are also glass lantern slides, speech cards and notes for many of his speaking engagements, sketches, correspondence and six volumes of travel journals.
Lampard points to an observation written by Davidson’s wife in 1928.
“He believed in Rotary’s possibilities for good, and notably its unique power for developing friendships among peoples of different races. By the weight of his own belief, he compels others to believe likewise.”
Looking ahead, Lampard would like to see some sort of permanent marker installed at the University of Calgary in honour of Davidson. He also said the time is right for a formal biography to be written, and a feature film about the man’s many adventures would also be fitting.
“I believe he was the most internationally significant Albertan in the first half of the 20th century,” said Lampard. “He never stopped contributing.”