Naturespeak 

Wedgemount Glacier’s pioneer surveyor: In memoriam

By Karl Ricker,

Whistler Naturalists

On June 22 nd , Bill Tupper (age 70) passed away while recuperating from a leg operation. Bill began survey work with Karl Ricker on Wedgemount Glacier in 1973 with near-yearly visits to 1987. Since then, Bill carried out the office work of plotting the survey data into map form while Karl continued visits to the glacier for field photographs and measurements, turning the data over to Bill for compilation.

Bill’s last map of Wedgemount Glacier, produced in 2004, was based on precise aerial photography. It can be viewed on-line at www.chirpwhistler.info .

Bill worked tirelessly on the Wedgemount project and the community of Whistler has been the beneficiary. In addition to the web-based map, Bill was in the process of digitizing maps he compiled with his BCIT students over the last 30 years.

Bill began his survey career at Banff, Alberta in 1957 after withdrawing from engineering studies at Queen’s University. Living alone in a Parks Canada bunkhouse, Bill spent his leisure time studying survey reports and accompanying maps completed by the famous mountaineer, A. O. Wheeler, who also founded the Alpine Club of Canada in 1906. Wheeler’s maps were works of art, and also well ahead of their time in terms of presentation and the painstaking field methods used to compile them. There was no aerial photography in those days; the requisite photos were taken from high peaks at fixed common stations.

Bill was also fascinated with photography, spending his hard-earned paycheque to buy the latest in camera gear. His mentors were Bruno Engler, a renowned mountain photographer who was living in Banff at the time, and Byron Harmon, a predecessor whose startling black and white photographs of Rocky Mountain lore are displayed throughout Banff. Wheeler’s work inspired Bill to undertake trips into the Continental Divide area of the mountain parks. Highlights included the Mt. Assiniboine and the Columbia Icefields.

After Bill came to Vancouver in 1962 and began a job with the UBC Department of Metallurgy, he decided to embark on a career which could combine his surveying prowess with photography. He enrolled at the International School of Photogrammetry at Delft, Holland in 1967. Returning to Vancouver two years later with a degree and draft map of the Mt. Waddington area (compiled as a classroom exercise), Bill eventually found his way to teaching photogrammetry at BCIT, where he completed the map.

Bill wanted a field exercise in photogrammetry for his students, and Wedgemount Glacier proved to be the ideal site after he checked it out with Karl. Every September, Bill and his students, other survey instructors, and Karl would carry out fieldwork on the glacier. Air photos of the glacier dating back to 1947 were used to plot contour maps of the glacier. The field survey then provided the spatial coordinates of fixed points on the photos in order to eliminate any distortion in the map.

Wedgemount is one of a very few glaciers in Canada to receive such a long-term, rigorous analysis. The others are Place Glacier, near Birken, and Peyto Glacier in Banff. Due to Bill’s generous contributions, the Whistler Naturalists still have a great deal of information about Wedgemount Glacier to add to the CHiRP website. What happens in the future with the Wedgemount project is still to be determined, but we intend to build on Bill’s tradition.

With Bill’s passing, we have lost a meticulous glacier research scientist. The Whistler Naturalists extend their deepest sympathies to his family and know that there is a bright light remaining yet on the other side of the crevasse. We will see you there, Bill, one at a time.

Upcoming Events

Parks Day on Blackcomb and Decker Mountains , Saturday July 16 th , 9:45 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Help celebrate Canada’s Parks Day with the Whistler Naturalists. This moderately strenuous hike will go from the Rendezvous on Blackcomb out to Decker Mountain. Meet at the base of the Wizard chairlift at 9:45 a.m. sharp. There are a limited number of complimentary lift tickets (courtesy of Whistler-Blackcomb) available to members of the Whistler Naturalists. Please note that winter lift passes do not work on Blackcomb. For more information, contact Bob Brett (604-932-8900; Bob@SnowlineResearch.ca).

A couple of notes of thanks. Thanks to the Community Foundation of Whistler (CFOW) for providing funds for the aerial photography and computer mapping of Wedgemount Glacier which Bill Tupper co-ordinated. And thanks yet again to the Whistler Resort and Club for their support of the recent Breeding Bird Survey and the Whistler 2010 Biodiversity Inventory.

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