Mary Warburton (ca1871-1931) was a Vancouver nurse with a penchant for walking where she needed to go, regardless of distance or season. Two of her trips were reported in the news – one from Hope to Princeton in 1926; the other from Squamish to Princeton in 1931. Both trips were made in autumn.
On August 25, 1926, Warburton, age 56, left Hope for Princeton, a 65-mile journey. On foot. According to the account of Warburton’s trip as related by Michael Kluckner, she had finished a lengthy nursing stint with a terminally-ill patient and was heading to the Okanagan to take a working vacation as a fruit picker. She set out wearing a light khaki hiking outfit and supplied with food which would last four days: “4 packets of RyeCrisp, a half pound each of bacon, butter, and cheese, a pound of raisins, 2 oz. of almonds and some tea. . . . A frying pan, a billy [cooking pot], a spoon and a single-bladed pocket knife, plus a sketch map of the area and a compass, completed her kit.”
On the second day of her hike (and having travelled about 25 miles), Warburton took a wrong turn. On Day 3, she stumbled and lost nearly all her food in a mountain stream, except what remained of the half-pound of butter. She conserved the butter by eating only a small portion morning and night; but in a few days, it was all gone. From then on, the only nourishment Warburton got came from chewing leaves and fungae, which she did not swallow. She claimed that after the first week, she didn’t feel hungry.
Warburton was reported missing before the end of August and a search party was launched. By September 21, however, the search was all but called off. A final effort at finding Warburton, was undertaken, however by BC Provincial Police Constable Daugherty and a guide by the name of “Podunk” Davis.
“Shortly after pitching camp in Paradise Valley on Monday the[y] heard a faint ‘hello’, and after a search Davis came upon the nurse, who, supported by a stick, was tottering in the direction of the camp-fire smoke. She was in an emaciated condition and her clothing was in tatters. All that was left of her shoes were the soles, which were bound to her feet with pieces of rope.
‘You’re an angel from heaven,’ was the woman’s greeting as she collapsed at Davis’ feet.”
Warburton was transported by pack horses and automobile to Princeton , and “after arriving at the hospital, insisted on taking a hot bath, unaided, before she was put to bed.”
Warburton Peak, near Princeton, is named in her honour.
Five years later, and by then 60 years old, Nurse Warburton was again missing – this time, walking from Squamish to Princeton.
From the start, however, Warburton’s prospects on this trip seemed grimmer. The search seems not to have been initiated until 9 weeks after she left Squamish. And by the time of the search, it was the first week of November and accumulated snow would have been a factor along mountain trails. The length of her planned trip was also substantially greater (although for some reason the searchers confined the scope of the searches to the area between Squamish and Indian Arm.)
The initial search for Warburton was launched by BC Provincial Police Constable W. Gill and he was accompanied by trapper Jack Haysburg. On that first search, a note from the nurse was found, along with other “traces” of her. Gill and Haysburg set out on a second search the week following the first search. The searchers were hoping against hope that the nurse had taken refuge within a cabin along the trail between Squamish and Indian Arm.
Neither Warburton nor her body was ever discovered and she was presumed dead.
Questions arise when I think about Mary Warburton. Questions like: “How many other times did she undertake walks to outrageously distant locales?” and “Was Mary mentally ill? Or did she simply enjoy really long walks – alone?” Or perhaps Mary was just an early version of that multitude of contemporary hikers who keep North Shore Search and Rescue crews so busy by taking on the mountains of the North Shore, ill-prepared for Mother Nature’s nasty side and/or their own lack of fitness for the area.
• https://www.michaelkluckner.com/bciw2hopeprinceton.html. “The Search for Mary Warburton.”
• http://forums.clubtread.com/28-lodge/9205-old-hiking-stories-hiking-characters.html. “Old Hiking Stories/ Hiking Characters.”
• http://universityrelations.ok.ubc.ca/publicaffairs/videos/. “The Search for Mary Warburton” (Video).
• Winnipeg Tribune (21 Sept 1926; 1 Oct 1926; 9 Nov 1931; 11 Nov 1931; 13 Nov 1931).
• Chilliwack Progress (14 July 1927; 29 Apr 1942)